✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
Not only when people are physically tired, but especially when they are stressed out and mentally and emotionally tired, they sigh. We sigh when we’re burdened by something, when we’re weighed down, when we’re struggling to keep on going. Sometimes the cause of our sighing is within us–be it the physical things we battle like bad knees and bad backs, disease, loss of sight and loss of hearing; or be it the sin within that weighs on you, that attacks your conscience, that makes you say, “Why did I do that or say that? Why am I such a mess?” And we can be brought to sighing by things outside of us, too–when people do evil to us and make our life difficult, when family or friends let us down, when all our efforts seem to get us nowhere, when we see the violence of the world and how everything around us seems to fail sooner or later. Sometimes it’s all just too much, and we sigh; we groan. Sighing is the fruit of the curse.
And it affects all of creation. Romans 8 says that “all creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.” The recent hurricane and flooding is a living picture of that. The whole creation is weighed down and broken. It sighs and groans; and that often only makes our sighing and groaning worse as it brings to us suffering and sickness and death. Creation itself is in bondage to decay after the fall.
As we look up to heaven and sigh, it is most helpful to see our Lord Jesus in the Gospel doing the very same thing. He is really one with us in our troubles. He shares our burdens. He too, sighs and groans. But His sighing is also different from ours. He feels your pain to be sure. And He knows your emptiness. But there’s more to it than that. He knows that there’s a cure. For He has come to be the cure Himself. His sighs, His groans, His suffering are the very thing that take your sin and your burden away from you. His sighs breathe His words and His Spirit and His life into you.
The friends of the deaf man at least in some small way understood this. They brought the deaf-mute to Jesus. They didn’t ignore his deafness or ostracize him. They didn’t say it was his fault, that it was punishment for something he had done. They were real friends. So they brought him to where he could get help. They brought Him to Jesus. May God grant to us all such friends, even as we have already been befriended by those who brought us to Jesus at baptism, or who encouraged us to come to church (or get back to church) or receive holy absolution and the Sacrament of the Altar. And by His mercy may the Lord make us such friends to others. When’s the last time you invited someone to come with you to church or adults instruction class?
Even more than his friends, though, the deaf-mute had this going for him: He had Jesus going for him–Jesus with him and for him and on his side. Jesus took him aside from the multitude, away from the familiarity and the security of his friends and the people he knew. The deaf-mute’s attention, his trust was to be entirely focused on Jesus now. So it is with you. When Jesus deals with you, he calls you to find your security not ultimately in the familiar people or things in this world, not even in your family, but only in Him. He even goes so far as to say, “Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37).
Jesus did this away from the crowd. For He wasn’t using this man as a prop for a PR stunt to promote His Messianic career. He was completely there for the deaf-mute, one on one. He put His fingers into the deaf man's ears. He spit and touched the deaf man’s tongue. He touched him right where his body was broken with a healing touch. And He said, “Ephphatha.” “Be opened. Be released.” There was something almost over the line in Jesus’ actions. We don't want people sticking their fingers in our ears. And we certainly don't want people spitting and touching our tongues! Jesus invaded this man’s space. It was uncomfortably close.
The Lord can heal with just a Word. Why then fingers in the ears, spit and hands upon the tongue? Well, for one thing, this is what his friends had prayed for. Remember they had begged Jesus to put His hand on him. That prayer was being answered very concretely. Be careful what you pray for. You may receive what you asked, but not in the way you expected. It may not come in the comfortable, simple way you were hoping for but in the Lord’s way that puts you out of your comfort zone, that teaches you not to trust in your prayers or your friends’ prayers, but only in the Lord who answers your petitions. He may be invading your personal space, but it’s for your good.
Jesus heals in this hands-on way, too, because this is the very purpose for which he came, to be the Great Physician who touches our broken flesh with His pure life-giving flesh. He sticks His fingers in our ears through the preaching of His Word. In the Bible, the “finger of God” is a reference to the Holy Spirit and His work. God puts His finger, His Holy Spirit into our ears with the Scriptural words which He Himself inspired. Only by the power of God’s Word and Spirit can our natural spiritual deafness be turned to a listening ear which understands and believes the things of God. The Epistle reading said, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
Jesus also spits and touches our tongue in the Sacraments. Baptism is water and words from the mouth of God, right? In baptism Jesus says His “Ephphatha” to you, releasing you from your bondage to death and unloosing your tongues to sing the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. We pray in the Psalms, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.” Only when the Holy Spirit has opened our ears and freed our tongues can we truly worship Him rightly. It is written, “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”
And of course, our Lord Christ touches your tongue very literally in Holy Communion, where He places His body and blood right onto your tongues and into your bodies for your forgiveness. To the world it is a rather strange thing that you would come forward and kneel at this rail and let me place food and drink into your mouth. But you do so at the Lord’s Word. For this is the Lord’s concrete, earthy way of touching you and giving you eternal healing. And it especially seems strange to the world that you would all drink from the same cup of the Lord. It seems so untidy in our day and age. But that’s what the Lord directs us to do. He says, “Drink of it (the one cup) all of you.”
Jesus looked up to heaven, and sighed, and said “Ephphatha.” The cost of our healing is His sacrificial death, and Jesus knows that well. He sighed and groaned and cried out and was spitefully spit upon for us on the cross. And yet through that death Jesus is not defeated but victorious. For in so doing He breaks the power of sin’s curse. Jesus has overcome all that makes you sigh and groan in this fallen world through the cross. You have the victory in Him.
God the Father showed the victory of Jesus’ sacrifice for you on the third day. This time the Father said “Ephphatha” to the tomb, “be opened,” and He raised Jesus to life in glory. In the same way, Jesus will speak His “Ephatha” to your graves on the Last Day, and raise you from the dead with glorified bodies to live with him forever in righteousness and holiness.
This is the light at the end of all tunnels for the Christian. This is the promise that no matter how bad the sighing gets, there really is a better day ahead. No matter how deaf God appears to the sounds of our cry, in Jesus Christ, he hears, and he will answer us, and restore us, and give us eternal blessing. In the resurrection there will be no more deafness or pain or trouble or disease any more. As it is written, “Sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” The whole creation will rejoice with us as it, too, is released from its bondage. We eagerly wait for the adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Until then, the Spirit of Christ helps us in our weakness, aiding our prayers when we don’t know what to say, making intercession for us with sighs and groans too deep for words.
“In that day the deaf shall hear the words of the book.” Thanks be to God that He has caused the living melody of the Gospel to sound in our ears, that He sighs His breath and Spirit and life into us. Even in the midst of the uncertainties of your life, let your confession of faith be like that of the multitude in the Gospel, “He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠