Sermon for September 5, 2021

Pentecost 15/Lectionary 23B, Mark 7:24-37

The Bible’s stories in the gospels consistently reveal that Jesus did amazing things during his earthly ministry. But the Gospel of Mark also consistently suggests that Jesus didn’t want anyone to know about the great things he did.

This effort to diminish or obscure Jesus’ deeds of power is a unique feature of Mark’s Gospel compared with the other Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John.

Just look at the obscuring secretiveness in today’s reading:

  • “[Jesus] entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there.”
  • In attending to the deaf man, [Jesus] “took him aside in private away from the crowd…”
  • After Jesus healed him, “Jesus ordered them to tell no one…”

But in reaction to Jesus’s command to tell no one about the healing, Mark reports that “the more he ordered [the crowds to say nothing], the more zealously they proclaimed it.”

It strikes me that Jesus’ command in Mark to tell no one about the amazing things he had just done may be an excellent reverse psychology evangelism strategy. If we order shy Christians who are reticent about proclaiming Christ to keep silent, maybe then they’ll tell everyone they know!

What’s going on in Mark when it comes to Jesus’ many exhortations to his followers to keep silent about his miracles and wonders? Why does Jesus do this?

Maybe Jesus knew well our human psycho-spiritual make up. For the finite, broken, sinful Old Adam in us is inevitably drawn to the shiny objects of impressive deeds.

As we heard for several weeks this summer on John 6, humans tend to hunger for the bread that goes stale rather than longing for the bread that makes for eternal life. And as we’ll hear next week, when Peter rebukes Jesus for predicting his coming suffering, Jesus responds, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Mark 8:33b)

But when it’s all said and done, the good news for us is that Jesus’ mission is not about the shiny objects of impressive feats to which we are drawn. Put another way, the good news is that Jesus is not, in fact, a Marvel comics superhero!

That Jesus’ mission is focused in more transcendent directions is abundantly clear in the trajectory of the narrative in Mark’s Gospel. Most everything about Jesus in Mark’s narrative remains obscure and hidden until the revelations about the cross and the empty tomb. With the news of Jesus’ resurrection that’s when everything else begins to make sense.

Which is to say, the miraculous healings are not ends in themselves. Rather, they ultimately serve to point to Jesus’ resurrected life beyond the cross and the tomb.

Thus, in the light of the resurrection, we see ourselves in the Gentile woman in today’s gospel who proposes to eat the crumbs from under the table of the chosen when we are given the little piece of sacred bread as gift for our healing from the sacramental table.

So, too, from a resurrection viewpoint, we see ourselves in the story of the man who couldn’t hear or speak, but whose ears were opened and whose tongue was unleashed. Just as Peter’s mute silence was ended on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit unleashed Peter’s silent tongue to give birth to the proclamation of the mighty acts of God in raising Jesus from the dead, we, too, are given the ears of faith and the power to use our liberated tongues to proclaim the gospel.

When Mark reports, “immediately his ears were opened, his tongue released, and he spoke plainly,” so, too, we are liberated to proclaim resurrection life in Christ and not just gossip about the great all you can eat buffet we just enjoyed.

Moreover, in light of Christ’s death and resurrection, we can recognize that the prophecy from Isaiah in today’s first reading is fulfilled: in Christ, “Here is your God.” In Christ, “then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless shall sing for joy.”

Isaiah then continues with words that from the vantage point of Christ’s resurrection evoke themes of our baptism into Christ: “For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water.”

Further still, because of Christ’s death and resurrection and the power of the Holy Spirit given us thereby, we can begin to fulfill James’ instruction about keeping true religion. “What good is it… if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you say to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works is dead.” (James 2:14-17)

In Christ, in the power of his resurrected life given to us by the Spirit in the means of grace in our communal life together, we are liberated from our captivity to sin to begin in fits and starts a living faith active in works of love for our neighbors as James would have it.

Indeed, it’s true that faith without works is dead. But it’s also true that faith without the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is also dead in a way, and reduced to social service that can easily lead to burn out without the energies of the Holy Spirit propelling us on. That is to say, when it’s all said and done, faith without Christ cannot do good works for very long at all until we run out of our own steam, leading to paralysis and deadly inertia.

So it is that week after week we enter this room, passing by the font of water that calls to thankful remembrance the baptismal waters that broke forth in the desert sands and wilderness of our lives. When we dip our fingers into that pool, we tap into the sacred energies of renewal in our burned-out lives.

So it is that we turn the attention of our unstopped ears of faith to this spot where the tongues of our readers and of our preachers are unleashed to tell of the mighty acts of God in raising Jesus from the dead. And thereby, our faith is renewed for our loving works in and for the sake of the world.

So it is that we come back to this table again and again to eat the sacred crumbs that make all the difference for renewed life and energy in serving our neighbors.

So it is that we share in God’s work of revealing the enlightened clarity of resurrection promise in a world obscured by the shadows of sin and death.

So it is that our works of mercy clearly reveal God’s love in Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Thanks be to God. Amen.