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Groan

September 05, 2021
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost comes from our Gospel text, especially where Mark records, “And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.’”  Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …

Jesus feeds a crowd of thousands with nothing more than a few loaves and a couple of fish … and they thought it was all about the food. He walks upon the waters, attempting to pass by the disciples’ boat … and they mistake Him for a ghost. He heals the sick and lame of Gennesaret, brought to Him on stretchers and beds, yearning just to touch the fringe of His garment … and they thought it was all about the healing.

The Gospel accounts tell of the many miracles that our Lord Jesus did throughout His earthly ministry. Those I just mentioned are all from Mark 6, the text we went through a month or so ago. Now we are in chapter 7, and after an interesting interaction between Jesus and the Pharisees about what makes a person clean before God, Jesus withdraws. According to His human nature, He’s weary. He’s tired. He needs rest … but there’s little rest from His work, as we hear in our text about, not one, but two miracles that He performs.

First, we’ve got this Syrophoenician woman coming out to Jesus after He’s entered a house, and she falls at His feet. She’s a Gentile, a pagan, a woman who, by all rights, ought to have no contact with this Jewish rabbi. But she’s heard that He’s come to their town. She knew the wonders He’s performed. Thus, she subjugates herself before Him, begging Him “to cast the demon out of her daughter.” And Jesus responds with a rather blunt, albeit true, statement: “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” She knows the truth of His words and confesses, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Jesus tells her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” The demon was gone, with just a mere word from Jesus, who was a long ways off. Though she was a pagan, this woman seems to have recognized, in a way that the Pharisees did not, that one greater than Moses was here … but the scope of her understanding was lacking.

Then we get this account of a deaf and slow-speeched man who’s brought to Jesus after He’s traveled back through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee. The afflicted man is brought, presumably, by some of his loved ones who were concerned for his well-being, and who clearly had also heard about this “Miracle Man” who had come back through their city. They bring him before Jesus and beg Him to heal the man. Jesus takes the man aside to a more private space and does some admittedly odd things. He sticks His fingers into the man’s ears. He spits on His fingers and then touches the man’s tongue. He looks up to heaven and groans, complains to God with a gut-wrenching, soul-deep sigh and speaks a command in Aramaic, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Be opened.” Instantly the man can hear and speak plainly, as if he hadn’t had these issues all his life … and the first thing that Jesus tells him to do, and those with him, is to keep silence. This formerly-deaf man’s life was restored … but both he and those who brought him didn’t heed Jesus’s command, and Mark tells us, “But the more He charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.’”

That last statement is from the people: “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” Why did they say this? Why did they think Jesus “had done all things well”? Because He healed some people? Fed the masses in an impossible manner? Cast out demons and walked on water? Is that what this is about? It is, and the problem isn’t that the people are necessarily wrong – indeed, He did do all things well. The problem is their focus … that’s what was off.

Part of the reason why Jesus needed some R&R, part of the reason why He groaned, part of the reason why He commanded the astonished crowd to keep their silence about this healing was because they thought that was all He had come to do. They thought of Jesus as a magic man, a fantastical healer fit for the likes of “Judea’s Got Talent,” nothing more. The Jews were shown to believe this in earlier chapters (and during our romp through John 6), and here, as Jesus has come into Gentile territory, the same misconceptions exist. All they could think of was the temporal, the here-and-now, the problems that they were facing. They didn’t … they couldn’t see the big picture. Yes, Jesus would bring about healings during His earthly ministry, but that was far from the purpose of His coming: it was a side-effect, a wonderful by-product.

Isaiah, in our Old Testament text, affirmed that healings would accompany God’s anointed one, but that they would, in fact, point to something far greater: “Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.’” How will we know that God has come, that He has come to save us? Well, you’ll know it when you see “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.”

All these healings, all these signs and wonders, are screaming to Jew and Gentile alike, in Jesus’s time and in our own, that One far greater than Moses has come. He is David’s son, yet David’s Lord, the One who was before Abraham. This Jesus of Nazareth … is Immanuel, “God with Us,” and He has come with a vengeance, with the recompense of God, and He had come to save. The salvation that He brings came about, not by miraculous healings and sound teaching. His salvation is brought in the ultimate sign and wonder … as He was beaten and scourged, taunted and ridiculed, crucified and died, all while bearing the iniquity of all mankind. His crucifixion, death, and resurrection from the dead were the true purpose for which He stepped into His creation in the first place, for it was only by His death and resurrection that our sins could be atoned for and our ultimate healing be given.

That’s why Jesus sighed, why He groaned. That’s why He needed that rest. That’s why He instructed the crowds to tell no one about what they had experienced. He wasn’t just a miracle man, but the Son of Man, come to bring a far greater healing than from demon possession or being deaf and mute. He was, and is, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He came, not to give us miraculous food that spoils, but true food and true drink in His body and blood. His purpose was far greater than mere temporal healing, incredible and miraculous though they may be. Our God came with a vengeance against the prince of this world. He came to save us from the just punishment for our sins. He came to begin the restoration of all creation … and He is coming back to bring it to completion.

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.