“Keep your hands to yourself.” It is an instruction; a command; even a plea that parents and teachers say all of the time. I think it has even been said in the Surburg house. It’s a basic reality that when children and youth put their hands on one another it often devolves into problems. When things start to get physical they get carried away, people get hurt, and there are tears, yelling and angry words.
“Look, but don’t touch.” This too is an instruction; a command; even a plea that parents use all the time. We use it when we are in stores, or when we are visiting another person’s home. It certainly has been said by parents whose children have come down to the basement to see my model railroad. It acknowledges the fact that children inherently want to reach out and touch things. They want to pick them up and hold them. They don’t just want to see something. They want to touch it.
In the Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus is not content just to speak. When people bring to him a man in need of healing he touches the man. In this miracle we see that Jesus is God in the flesh who brings salvation that is the complete answer to sin. He is the One who still touches us in order to give us forgiveness and life.
In our Gospel lesson this morning we find that Jesus has been in pagan territory north of Israel. In the area of Tyre and Sidon he had cast out a demon from the daughter of a Gentile Syrophoenician woman. Now he had headed east into the area of the Decapolis. Decapolis is simply Greek for “ten cities” and this name described the fact that the area was noted for the Greek cities that had been founded there. It is not as if there were no Jews here, but it certainly was an area that was more Gentile than Jewish.
Mark tells us, “And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him.” We don’t learn anything about who these people were. We know that the reports about Jesus had spread throughout Palestine. Clearly they had heard of Jesus’ miracles. We don’t even really learn anything about their attitude towards Jesus. Did they come in faith, believing in Jesus? Or did they come because they had heard that this guy does miracles, and maybe he can help? We aren’t told.
We can, however, say two things for sure. First, they cared about this deaf man who had difficulty speaking. When they heard that Jesus was in the area and so there was the possibility of help, they brought the man to Jesus. And second, they did the right thing. They brought the man to Jesus.
Both of these give us pause as we think about ourselves. First, are we people who care about others and seek to help? Are there times when we pretend not to notice because helping may require effort and cost on our part? Is it merely a convenient excuse when we tell ourselves that we “just mind our own business?”
And at the same time, do we see Jesus as the answer? This goes for us and the concerns in our own lives. Do we see in Jesus the source of comfort and assurance that we need for every situation? Is he the One we trust in the midst of the circumstances that come our way?
And then also, do we see Jesus as the answer for others? Do we see him as the answer to sin in their life, and so seek to bring them to Jesus? Do we see Jesus as the answer to the hurt they are experiencing?
The man’s friends brought him to Jesus. We learn that he was deaf and had some kind of speech issue. We don’t know if this was caused by the deafness itself or whether it had some other source. What Jesus did was to take the man aside, away from the crowd. Mark tells us, “he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’”
Jesus touched the man. Our Lord put his fingers into the man’s ears. He touched the man’s tongue. Jesus’ touch is something that Mark’s Gospel emphasizes. On several different occasions Mark describes how Jesus touches a person as part of his ministry.
Jesus is the God who can touch us. He is God here in our world. He is God in the flesh. He is God in the flesh because of what sin has done to us. In our text Jesus looks up to heaven and then our translation says that he “sighed.” It can also be translated as “groaned.” Jesus stands in the presence of what sin has done and he sighs; he groans.
We cannot understand Jesus’ miraculous healing ministry unless we grasp that all illness is caused by sin. Sin is the root cause of all that is wrong in the world. Illness points towards death, and sin is the cause of death. Jesus sighs because he stands in the presence of what sin has done, and it is not very good. It is not what God intended when he made his creation.
Jesus is the Son of God there in the flesh because of this fact. He is there because he brings the kingdom of God – the reign of God – that is reversing all of this. He is freeing people and creation itself from Satan, sin, and death.
In fact the very act of healing the deaf man who can’t speak demonstrates this. Mark describes the manner in which the man has difficulty speaking using a very rare word. It occurs only twice in the whole of the New Testament and the Greek translation of the Old Testament that was used by the early church.
The only other time it occurs is in Isaiah chapter 35 where the prophet writes: “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. 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.’ Then 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.” Isaiah describes the end-time salvation that God will bring. Jesus’ act of healing the deaf man who can’t speak shows that he is the presence of this salvation. In him God’s saving reign has arrived.
Jesus was the presence of God’s saving reign as he went all the way to the cross. There he provided the answer for sin by being punished in your place. Jesus says in this Gospel, “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” As Paul told the Romans, “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.”
God condemned sin as Jesus bore the consequences of sin for us and died. But then on the third God the Father raised Jesus up. He began the resurrection of the Last Day. Because of Jesus, the ultimate and complete reversal of all that sin has done to us has begun. It may be that in time the illness with which you are afflicted causes death. But that death cannot end your life – the life you have in and with Christ. And it cannot change the fact that because of Christ you will enjoy the triumph over that illness and all of the other ways sin has brought hardship into your life. For on the Last Day Jesus Christ will return in glory and give you a share in his resurrection as he transforms your body to be like his.
The saving reign of God was certainly present as Jesus healed the man and gave him the ability to hear and speak. Jesus reversed the ways that sin had warped this man’s existence and made him whole. But before our text is done, things take an odd turn. Mark tells us, “And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.”
Jesus orders the people not to tell others about the miracle. Now this seems weird. Doesn’t Jesus know anything about evangelism? What’s the deal? Actually it’s not the first time Jesus has done this in Mark’s Gospel. And like the other occasions, the people don’t listen to him. They do things their way.
Jesus commands the people not to tell others about the miracle because he wants to define his ministry. As we are learning in Bible class, Jews at the time of Jesus had a variety of idea about what the Messiah would be like. But one thing that tied them all together was the notion of power, victory and success. Jesus hadn’t come to do things that way because it was not the Father’s will. He had come to walk the way of service and suffering. He had come to walk a way that first led to the cross, and then led out of the tomb.
Jesus touched the man in our text and brought the reign of God to him. He has done the same thing for you. He touched you with water on your head in Holy Baptism as he made you a forgiven child of God. Through this touch you shared in his saving death. Through this touch you received the saving reign of God. And now, he calls you to do things in his way. He calls you to serve and help your neighbor, just as he served you. This way of service doesn’t make sense to the world. It is only when we view life through Christ’s loving service that the foolish extravagance of love and service towards others becomes clear.
This understanding of life is not something that comes naturally. Quite the opposite. Earlier in this chapter Jesus had described what comes naturally. He said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.”
Because this sin is still there as the old man battles against the new man Christ has created in us through baptism, we need support. And so Jesus touches us yet again. The One in whom all the fullness of God was bodily present gives us his true body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. Through this touch he gives you forgiveness for it is his body and blood given and shed for you. And through his touch he strengthensyou in faith so that you can live life in the Jesus way. We can trust him to do this because after all, he is the One who has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.