Thursday, September 5, 2019

Mark's thoughts: Luther summarizes a miracle, and Jesus is an example

The Gospel lesson for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity is Mark 7:31-37, the “Ephphatha” account in which Jesus heals a man who is deaf and has speech impediment.  Apart from the specific details in which he puts his fingers into the man’s ears, and spits and touches his tongue before sighing/groaning and saying “Ephphatha” (“Be opened”), it is a straight forward account of Jesus working a miracle of healing.
It is fascinating, therefore, to read the first two paragraphs of Martin Luther’s sermon on this text in the Church Postil.  Here writes:
Just as everywhere the Gospels depict our Lord Jesus as a merciful and gracious man who is ready to help everyone with words and works in body and soul, so also this Gospel reading depicts for us how willingly He helped this poor man, who was mute and deaf.  It does this to stir us up to faith, so that we expect good from Him.  In this way, He sets a pattern and example for us of how every Christian should imitate Him and also help his neighbor. 
A Christian life consists in this: that, first, we believe and trust in our Savior, Christ, and are assured that we are not forsaken by Him, no matter what need or danger happens. Second, every Christian should also act toward friend and enemy the way he sees that Christ is so willing to help everyone.  Whoever does this is a Christian.  Whoever does not do this, however, may be called a Christian but is not one.  These two cannot be separated; the fruit of faith must follow, or the faith is not real. This is the summary of this Gospel reading. (LW, 79:37)
The text is nothing more than an account of our Lord’s miracle. Yet Luther cannot speak about Jesus’ merciful act without also talking about how Jesus is a “pattern and example for us of how every Christian should imitate Him and also help his neighbor.”    In the second paragraph he says in his sermon that the Christian life consists of two parts.  The first is belief and trust in our Savior, Christ. The second is acting towards others just as we see Christ help everyone.  Luther emphasizes that faith that produces no fruit is not real. Such a person is a “Christian” in name only.

As I have described elsewhere, this robust emphasis on the Christian life that imitates Christ and produces works of love for the neighbor is a consistent emphasis of Luther’s preaching.  Indeed, I would be so bold as to say that this is what Lutheran preaching looks like, because this is the way Scripture speaks.

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