Why did Jesus heal the deaf man? What went through his mind when people brought this broken soul to him? Mark indicates he was inconvenienced; not prepared for this intrusion, but he sighed deeply, took him away from the crowds and healed him, with the admonition at least to keep it quiet. What did that sigh express? What did Jesus’ sigh, God’s sigh, mean? Was it simply his heart ache that that any person would be physically infirm? That certainly is the simplest answer, but it might not be enough. When my son asked deaf students, “If the technology enabling you to hear was available, would you use it?” almost half said they would prefer to remain deaf. Of course, his students had books. The man brought to Jesus could not have read even if he held a book in his hands.
Maybe Jesus’ sigh goes deeper. Maybe it expressed his deep sorrow that the deaf man lived in a world without words, wonderful, beautiful words. He could not hear Braband’s music. He would never hear anyone say, “I love you” or “I forgive you”. He could see the people before him, share events with them; but never know them completely. We reveal who we are with words. We disclose what we believe; we report we have done; we describe our hopes with words. The deaf man was wordless.
Of course, if the deaf man lived in a world without words, he also lived in a world pretty much without God’s Word. We often fail to remember God also reveals himself through words, wonderful, beautiful words reporting Good News. The deaf man could never participate fully in the conversation between God and his people, the history of salvation. Perhaps Jesus’ sigh laments that the deaf man would never hear God say, “I love you” and “I forgive you.”
But Mark seems to go even a step beyond that. This episode is in a long passage reporting how Pharisees, scribes and even his own disciples do not understand Jesus’ word, God’s word. They hear his teachings; see his miracles, but do not get it. Mark writes Jesus sighs again later in this passage. This time he sighs, because people who have ears do not hear what he is saying to them. So maybe Jesus’ sigh expresses his heartbreak over people who do not hear the Good News God is trying to tell them, even though he is speaking clearly, and they have healthy ears.
The sigh probably means all of these, but also the compassion that recognizes how broken and weak we are as we come to him. He stops what he is doing, goes out of his way, to open our ears and loosen our tongues, so we can find the joy of life.
That leads to a second question, “What is God saying that our present society needs to hear? Our ears seem to be stopped. We seem to be missing something. Just about everyone we were taught to trust has failed us. We were told we could always depend on bankers to care for our money. They knew the great responsibility in handling other people’s finances. Now they pay for television ads telling us people love their bankers, and we all laugh. Those of us who grew up in the Second World War were taught we could trust government officials, because they serve our interests and would do what was needed to get us through dark times. Now they seem to work only for their reelections with little concern for serving us. We were taught we could always turn to our religious leaders, when everything else failed. We should do whatever they told us to do, because they spoke for God. And we knew our beloved coaches gave themselves for us, so we should do just about anything for them.
Of course, not everyone in these careers has betrayed our trust, but enough have that our prayers implore God to speak and lead us out of this mess. And he speaks now as he has always spoken- through the mouths of those who speak truth in love, those who love us enough to tell us the truth. They might be family and friends. They might be other believers who speak as we gather to hear God’s Word. God still speaks as he has always spoken through the lessons and sermons, the hymns and anthems, the prayers and the meal we share. Perhaps he sighs as we pray, reminding us he knows something about betrayal. He has been there. Perhaps he assures us his Resurrection proclaims betrayal will not change him. He remains a God of steadfast, unconditional love, caring for us.
There is no need to fear. God keeps faith forever. His steadfast love endures forever. He executes justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, sets prisoners free, opens the eyes of the blind, lifts up those who are bowed down, watches over strangers and foreigners, and upholds the orphan and the widow. We hear the message all around us. This is the way to true joy. Let those who have ears, hear.
One thread runs through all the present day betrayals that have shaken us. In each the strong are taking advantage of the weak. One thread runs through the entire biblical message. We are to care for the weak. God’s justice calls for fairness, but beyond that care for the weak who can not compete even in a fair situation. That is the way he treated us when we came to him, weak and in need of his care. That is the way we are treat others. The core of the message remains the same. We can discuss how this is done in our time and place; we can disagree on what political actions accomplish this, but our priority must always be care for the weak so they can share our joy.
The message we hear in society is quite different. All around us our failed leadership shouts, “Be afraid, be very afraid. You cannot count on anyone. We live in a dangerous world, where everyone is out to take what you have. There is not enough to go around. Look out for yourself. Protect what you have. Forget about the weak. They do not deserve what you have. You can no longer afford to help them. They have to look out for themselves.”
God’s Word is quite different “Do not be afraid. God is a father who provides what we need. There is enough. Share what you have, and you will find joy.”
Which brings us to a third question: “What is God saying to you personally that you choose not to hear?” Hmmm! You know I can not speak to that. Listen instead to the wonderful, beautiful words in the rest of the service. Go home and listen to what those who love you are saying. God’s Way is very near you. Listen; be willing to change; believe.