Hearing & Speaking: Pentecost 11 homily

Mark 7.31-37

Dearly beloved:

Let us understand why the Lord God, in His wisdom, gave us ears to hear and mouths to speak. For if we do not know why we have these body parts, we will not understand the greatness of the miracle in today’s Gospel when Our Lord opens the ears of the deaf and heals the impediment of the tongue. Neither will we understand what is truly behind the rejoicing of the crowd when they exclaim, “He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.”

We might, instead, think that Our Lord Jesus has simply done another miracle. That He has added ‘healing the deaf and mute’ to the list of miracles. That He has fulfilled a prophecy, but that this prophecy and miracle has very little to do with us.

So, why did the Lord God give us ears? Not merely to hear sounds, loud and soft, beautiful and annoying. But to communicate. For conversation—real conversation—is not about talking, but about listening. The person who talks without listening hears only his own voice. And the person who hears only to argue his point is not truly listening.

To listen. That’s why God gave us ears. And to listen not to ourselves, not to my voice or yours, but chiefly and mostly to listen to Our Lord: His loving will for us; His desire to embrace Him by embracing His holy ways; and His mercy when we stray.

The Lord gave us ears to hear the Word of God and keep it. Not bury it, or shove it aside. But to internalize His Word, no matter how hard it may be for us to swallow. To let His word overrule our unruly thoughts and desires. And most of all, to let the Word that He is knit Himself to our flesh so that the Father can say, “You truly are mine; you truly are my Child. For I see that you heed what I say, and follow My way, and conform and bend your behavior, your mind, your will, your speech to align with Mine.”

The Lord gave us ears to take His Word Jesus into our heart and mind, and let His spirit reform our self-serving spirit.

Because he was jealous, as soon as the ancient foe saw our ears, he sought to obstruct them. To clog our ears. To make us deaf to Our Lord by having us focus only on words that frustrate and anger and puff us up—and so focus on words that lead us to think that what we think is really what God says.

To think that what we think is really what God says: that’s how the devil makes us tone-deaf. To others. And mostly to God. For Satan’s desire is not to turn us toward him, but merely to turn us more and more deeply into our selves. So that our causes, our needs, our rights, our experiences, our ways, our narratives, our truths are what we really hear when we say we’re listening to God and minding His Spirit.

To unstop these ears that hear only our own voice, and the voices of those who say anything but what the Lord God says: that’s why Christ came. To restore true hearing. To open our ears to hear the beauty that we so often miss. To rebuild the art of listening to Him. To heal our self-induced deafness.

Notice how Our Lord heals the deaf man in today’s Gospel. He pulls him aside from the crowd. He gets him away from the noise of so many voices. He brings him to a place of quiet, a place where we, because we’ve lost our hearing, can once again focus on Him: on His kindly mouth, on His generous words, on the love He speaks.

But it’s not enough for the Lord to quarantine us by leading us into silence. Our Lord must then stick His fingers in our ears. The same fingers by which He wrote the commandments on tablets of stone. The same fingers by which He warned King Belshazzar by writing on the plaster of the palace. And the same fingers He uses to uplift the heads of those who look down in despair, or fear, or hopelessness.

These fingers are His Spirit. The Holy Spirit who opens our ears, not to hear what we want to hear, or what we think God should say, or what others tell us God really means. This Holy Spirit opens our ears to hear what the Lord truly says to me, to you, to us:

  • That His love undoes everything we fear.
  • That His love matters more than everything else we fight for.
  • That His love, and not our many loves, is really what
    • sees us through;
    • and gives us hope;
    • and enables us to restrain ourselves;
    • and perfects and settles us as we battle our various thorns of the flesh.

These Spirit-fingers are gently yet firmly placed into the ears of each one of us. And then our ears do what they were really made to do. They begin to hear, and listen, and internalize, and live from, and find true joy in the unchanging, unbending, unerring, yet ever merciful and loving Word which is Christ Jesus.

Once hearing is restored; once our ears work as they were designed to work; then, without further ado, our mouths begin to speak like they were made to speak.

For Our Lord God did not give us mouths to gossip, or whisper, or spew hate-speech, or insult, or put others in their place. Our Lord God gave us mouths for one purpose only: to praise Him.

But praising the Lord is not at all saying the lofty and high-sounding words that we create, that flow from our undisciplined hearts and untamed lips. Praising the Lord is not gushing over God. To praise the Lord is to repeat His Word. To take what He has said, and say it back to Him again. Like children who learn to speak by mimicking the words of their parents. Like people who are so pleased when they can speak a new language by correctly repeating a few learned phrases.

To take what Our Lord says and say it back to Him again: that is the praise Our Lord wants. He says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” And He delights to hear us say, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” He says, “I have called you by Name.” And He rejoices when we say, “Our Father.” He says, “I am the Lord who rescued you.” And He is overjoyed when He hears us say, “The Lord is my light and my salvation: whom shall I fear?”

To repeat Our Lord’s word is to use our mouths for their true purpose.

  • To bless as He blesses.
  • To speak mercy and not malice.
  • To declare His truth, and eschew our self-made truths.
  • To make His words our daily prayer.

That is plain speaking. The plain speaking that the deaf man did in today’s Gospel. And the plain speaking that Our Lord asks of us after He said “Ephphatha, be opened” when we were baptized.

May Our Lord, who has opened our ears and healed our tongues, grant us His grace both to hear into our hearts and speak with our mouths the Word which He is that we love. To Whom, with His Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, belongs all glory, honor, and worship; now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.