Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Mark 7, Isaiah 35: Dealing with what we’ve been dealt (Suffering, Healing, Guilt, Restoration, Truth, Redemption)

September 9, 2006
St. Matthias Church
Dallas, Texas
Fr. Will Brown

In today’s readings we see the Lord manifested as healer… as the physician who gives sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and who loosens the tongues of the mute. Such healing was one of the hallmarks of Messiah, foretold by Isaiah in today’s OT reading: “Behold, your God will come… he will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped” (Isaiah 35.4f).

And in today’s gospel reading, we read of a man who experienced first hand the healing power of the Messiah. Listen again:

"And they brought him a man who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech; and they besought him to lay his hand upon him. And taking him aside form the multitude privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue; and looing up to heaven, he sighed, and said to him, “Eph’phatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly."

Now, always bear in mind the following. This is a central message of the Gospel of Christ: things are not as they seem. Things are not as they seem. Ostensibly, we have here a straightforward story about the power of Christ to heal infirmity; and it is that. But Christ is not just what he seems to be. He seems to be a healer, a prophet, an itinerate Rabbi from Galilee. And he is those things. But he’s not just what he seems to be. Who is he really? What is he really? And what is he really doing? What is he really teaching? Here’s a hint: his mission on earth was not merely to heal some sick people and get you to behave better. The point of the Evangelists telling the stories of Christ’s healing in the four gospels is not so that we will think “Wow, that’s neat; I should be nicer.”

If you want to know what’s up in the Gospels, if you want to know the background story, a good place to start is the prologue to the Gospel of John. There we are told who this guy is – and knowing who he is will put us on the right track of figuring out what he’s really up to when we read an edifying but seemingly innocuous story about Jesus healing someone or saying something interesting. The prologue to John’s Gospel tells us where this healer came from, and it starts at the beginning. THE Beginning. “In the Beginning,” it says, “was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…. The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.”

Jesus is the “Word of God” … That means that he’s God’s perfect and definitive self-expression. He is the life that is the light of men. And when he walks around Galilee, teaching and healing, as he does in today’s gospel lesson, he is shining in the darkness. And people then, as now, are befuddled and don’t get it; they misunderstand him; some say he’s a Samaritan and has a demon; some say that he was just an interesting and benevolent sage; and some conspire against him, mock and revile him, and nail him to a cross… because they don’t understand who he is, where his power comes from, or what he’s really up to. And sometimes we don’t understand, or we forget, or we begin to have our doubts.

The human predicament – our predicament – is a congenital blindness and deafness. Each of us is born into it, to one degree or another. It is the separation of God that mankind thrust himself into at the very beginning, when Eve listened to the beguiling serpent telling her that she would be a more authentic and enlightened self if she took matters into her own hands and ignored the loving mandate of God. That was the beginning of our congenital predicament, of the congenital blindness of humans to the presence of God, and of our deafness to his Word. And notice that Eve is complicit in her own being beguiled. What the snake says to her sounds good, she engages the temptation, and then she acts on it. And that’s how all sin works: we are both victims and perpetrators: we are victims of temptations, inclinations, and predispositions that come to us through no fault of our own – from our culture, from our families, from our genetic makeup. [Some people inherit genetic predispositions to alcoholism. I’ve known a number of gay men, and not a single one of them had a good relationship with his father as a child. Some people have mothers who never held them or abused them, and they turn into misogynists, or become abusive themselves. Its impossible to overcome the baggage of sinfulness we inherit. And you see people like that and you say how could they help it?] But we become complicit when we assent to those temptations, when we indulge our inherited screwed-upness. We become guilty when we say yes to the serpent whispering in our ears, and when that yes is translated into action, when we wallow in the darkness and pass it on to others.

But thanks be to God, the True Light that enlightens every man has come into the world, the Light that shines in the middle of our world’s darkness -- and our world’s darkness has not overcome it. And the Word of God has become flesh and dwelt among us. You see: Christ is the Light of God that enlightens every man, and the Word of God that, when we hear it, when we hear him, he effects our understanding of God and of God’s love for us. For what is a light but something that you see? And what is a word but something that you hear? So Christ as the Light of the World is able to open the eyes of the blind, to shine into our darkness; and as the Word of God, is able to open the ears of the deaf, to speak himself into our silence. And by doing so, by healing us of our inability to perceive God, he restores us to the condition that we have not known since before the Fall, before Adam and Eve sinned, and were removed from the presence of God.

In Christ we are able to see beyond mere appearances, beyond the trite reality of how things only seem to be. We are able to see the glory of God shining through the fissures in the surface of the physical world. It is Christ – and Christ alone – who enables us to sing with the Angels: Holy, Holy, Holy… Heaven and earth ARE full of thy glory. Understand? We can’t see that without Christ [We proclaim that the heavens and earth are full of the glory of God; but can we see it? If we look out the window do we see it full of the glory of God? Or do we see Taco Cabana? See, we’re still touched by the darkness…] And without Christ we can’t hear the groanings of the Holy Ghost brooding over the silent surface of our formlessness and void. That is the real blindness and the real deafness he has come to heal: and that is what we can see and hear, with the help of the Holy Spirit, too, beneath the surface of today’s Gospel reading.

To be succinct: like the deaf man in the gospel, we have been touched by Christ, and the healing of our insensitivity to the presence of God, who has formed the chaos of our former selves, in the waters of Baptism, has begun in us. Christ has spoken with authority into our lives: let there be light. Let light shine in this darkened, sin-stained heart. And our task now is to collude not with the temptations and darkness that still break upon us from our fallen contexts, that keep us from seeing what we claim to believe is really there, the heavens and the earth full of the glory of God, despite appearances. Our task is now is to stop cooperating with that inherited darkness, and to cooperate instead with the work he has begun in us; to use the light he has given us, to shine it in the recesses of our consciousness where the darkness still creeps in. And this cooperation – no longer with the works of darkness, but with the Word of God in Christ through the agency of the Holy Ghost – this collusion with God undoes sin, and breaks the cancerous power of spiritual blindness and deafness that humans pass on to one another. This cooperation with God’s redeeming work – by allowing his will to determine our actions, by giving in to him, rather than giving in to sinful habits and propensities – this is how we turn back toward him, and retrace the steps of our expulsion from the Garden, back into Paradise. This is what St. James is talking about in today’s epistle when he says that we must “be doers of the word” – that we are to be Christ’s collaborators, first by collaborating with his work in us, and then by collaborating with his work in the world. (And that’s why in today’s gospel lesson, Jesus first opens the deaf man’s ears, so that he can hear the word, and then touches his tongue, so that he too can be a proclaimer of the Word.) Then James says if you look into the perfect law, that is Christ, if you look at the perfect law and persevere, by being a doer that acts, not just a hearer of the gospel, but a proclaimer of the gospel, you will be blessed in what you do. You will be blessed. That’s a promise of God. You can take it to the bank.

And that’s our task, brothers and sisters, until the Lord returns: to persevere in collusion with Christ’s healing, enlightening, proclamation of God’s love and redemption. To collude with that work in ourselves, by hearing and re-hearing his word, and then to collude with that work in the darkness of the world by proclaiming it ourselves, until he comes again with power and great glory, and there’s no darkness left to hide in.


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