He Has Done All Things Well
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 7:31–37
The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 5, 2021
“He Has Done All Things Well”
The Paralympic Games in Tokyo wrap up today. Although these games don’t attract the same following or viewership as the Olympic Games, they are just as important as athletes with all kinds of disabilities demonstrate to the world that they are strong, resilient, and able to overcome incredible obstacles in life. What is it like to live with a disability? To not have the same physical, mental, or emotional capabilities that many of us just take for granted? What is it like to struggle with mobility or balance? Or vision or hearing problems? Or cognitive functions and memory loss? There are people with disabilities all around us. How do we encounter and interact with them? Many years ago, I was present for one of our church’s National Youth Gatherings. It’s been so long ago, I can’t even remember where this was, but I vividly remember one of the speakers who addressed the large-group assembly. She was a young woman who came onstage using walking braces and so it took awhile for her to get to the microphone. The tens of thousands of young people and adult leaders present in that convention center grew quiet as she approached center stage. I don’t remember this individual’s name, but I remember what she said. When she got to the microphone, she looked out at the vast sea of people in front of her and said: “You can see my disability, but I can’t see yours.” That had a profound impact on me, and I realized how true her words were. Everyone, in one way or another, is dealing with some kind of disability in life, whether that is noticeable to others or not. And that was the point that this young woman was trying to make. We are all imperfect, and we are all in need of help and understanding. We are all in need of God’s mercy and healing in body, mind, and spirit. On this Labor Day weekend, we encounter a man with disabilities in today’s Gospel lesson, and Jesus’ gracious healing that restored him. The closing words from today’s Gospel lesson, which are the response of the people who witnessed this, serve as the basis for the sermon, entitled “He Has Done All Things Well.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
It’s always good to have context when we’re reading God’s Word; to know what comes before and what comes after so that we are not reading things in isolation, but understand the truth that Scripture interprets Scripture. Today’s Gospel lesson follows Jesus’ healing of the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter (Mark 7:24-30). Beginning in chapter 6 (Mark 6:31-7:37), but again found in chapter 8 (Mark 8:1-30), there is a recurring cycle as Jesus feeds a multitude of people, and then encounters unbelief from the religious leaders, and then goes on to bring healing to people in need. Go home and read through this part of Mark’s Gospel. Mark chapter 8 comes to a climax with Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ (Mark 8:27-30), which leads to Jesus’ first prediction of his suffering, death and resurrection (Mark 8:31-38). All of this is the context surrounding today’s Gospel. In addition to context, it’s also helpful to know about geography. Where did this take place? And so it’s a good idea to have a map at hand when reading Scripture. Jesus was up north in Gentile country, around the ancient Phoenician coastal cities of Tyre and Sidon (in modern-day Lebanon), and from there he went down south toward the Sea of Galilee in the region of the Decapolis (or the Ten Cities). This, too, was Gentile country, and Jesus’ ministry included proclaiming the coming of the kingdom of God to both Jews and Gentiles, calling all people to repentance. We don’t know if the man with the disabilities in today’s Gospel lesson was a Jew or a Gentile; it doesn’t really matter. In his earthly life and ministry, Jesus ministered to all, and we are called to do the same today. With this truth before us, what ought our response to be with the great need all around us? Devastation in the Gulf Coast from Hurricane Ida? Earthquake and hurricane-stricken Haiti? Afghan refugees who have come not just to our country and state, but to this very area where we live? The love of Christ compels us to love others even as he has loved us. Love knows no boundaries. There are so many opportunities to love those who have lost everything. In ministering to those in need, we are in God’s own mysterious way ministering to Jesus himself as Jesus has told us: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matthew 25:35-36). On this Labor Day weekend, when we give thanks for God’s gift of work for our hands, let us share the good things God has given to us with those who are in need.
Today’s Gospel lesson is found only in Mark, and here Mark uses an extremely rare word to describe the man’s speech defect (μογιλάλος). “He was deaf and had a speech impediment so severe that he could not articulate his words. He apparently suffered from a spasmodic condition of the tongue which can extend to the facial muscles as well” (The Gospel According to Mark, by William L. Lane. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974; p. 266). Jesus’ ministry of compassion to this individual is a clear reference to today’s Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 35:4-7a), “which celebrates God as the one who comes in order to unstop the ears of the deaf and to provide song for the man of inarticulate speech. The fulfillment of the prophecy was expected in the Days of the Messiah in the exegetical tradition of the rabbis” (Ibid; citing Genesis Rabba 95; Midrash Tehillin 146:8). In doing what he did, Jesus revealed that he is that promised Messiah who has come to inaugurate the kingdom of God. That marvelous word, Ephaphatha, “Be opened!” was preceded by Jesus’ sighing (έστέναξεν, Mark 7:34). But why did Jesus sigh? Why do we sigh? We do this when we are frustrated or sorrowful over something. After lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus sighed, indicating his own frustration and sorrow over how God’s good design for his creation had been so marred and disfigured in this man. Does Jesus sigh over us today? Does Jesus sigh over how we have been so marred and disfigured by the effects of sin in our own lives? Many years ago, there appeared in a printed program of Handel’s Messiah one of those priceless bloopers. A line that was supposed to read “The Lord God Omnipotent reigneth!” instead read “The Lord God Omnipotent resigneth!” Sometimes we may wonder whether this may be the case; if God has walked away from what he has made. The good news is that God hasn’t given up on his creation and he hasn’t given up on us, either. The Lord God Omnipotent has not resigned. Despite the brokenness of our world and our lives, the Lord God loves us and wants what is best for us. In the ancient world, the efficacy of saliva for healing was widely understood, and Jesus does this very thing. But what heals the man is not Jesus’ spit, but Jesus’ word of command – Jesus’ word of liberation – that was spoken not just to the man’s ears and tongue, but to the man as a whole person: “Be opened!”
What Jesus came to inaugurate in his earthly life and ministry – healing, restoration, and redemption – he will bring to completion on that great and final day when he will come again to make all things new. Until then, we live with disabilities and imperfections in our bodies, minds, and spirits, and that is a struggle. But we live with these things knowing that they are not the final word; we believe and trust that Jesus has the final word. Through his life-giving death upon the cross and his glorious resurrection, sin and all of its effects give way to a new creation in Christ. What Jesus said to that man in the Gospel lesson, he says to us even now: “Be opened!” The Lord Jesus who loves us and laid down his life for us would open our hearts and minds, our whole being, to the power of his endless life and light. How can we be silent about this? How can we not share this good news? Even as the people who witnessed this miracle became proclaimers of what Jesus had done (έκήρυσσον), so we too cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard (Acts 4:20). Truly, he has done all things well! Amen.