John’s gospel is famous for its opening. The Word becomes flesh (1:14).
When John speaks about the Word becoming flesh, he paints a vast landscape. We are there at creation, watching as God’s Word brings the world into being. God speaks and things are created by the power of His Word. Then, Jesus Christ, the Word of God, becomes flesh and dwells among His people. John’s vision is large, expansive, covering all of creation.
What happens at the beginning of John’s gospel, with far-reaching splendor, is hidden away in the gospel of Mark. Buried amid the travels of Jesus, we find the word become flesh in another way. Humble. Hidden. But filled with the compassion of God.
Consider the second of the two miracles in our text. Jesus enters the region of the Decapolis. He is in Gentile territory. He has been here before, earlier in the gospel (5:1-20). In the graveyard, Jesus encountered a demon-possessed man. When Jesus cast out the demons, they entered a herd of pigs and drove them into the sea. Seeing the power of Jesus and the destruction of their livelihood, the people begged Jesus to leave. The newly healed man, however, fell at His feet. He begged to follow Jesus. Jesus, however, instructed him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how He has had mercy on you” (5:19).
Jesus told him to speak a word and now, later in the gospel, we see how that word has taken on flesh. The man did what Jesus asked. He spoke to his friends. He spoke to others in the Decapolis (5:20). Word traveled fast and now, when Jesus arrives, that word takes on flesh. A crowd gathers. Rather than beg Jesus to leave, they welcome Him in. They bring to Him a man who is unable to speak and unable to hear and ask for His healing.
What Jesus does next is astounding. He heals the man. But more astounding than the healing is the way in which Jesus does it. In the previous miracle, Jesus brought about healing by speaking a word at a distance. The Syrophoenician woman did not bring her daughter to Jesus. She left her daughter at home. Jesus spoke a word and the woman goes home to find her daughter restored (7:30). Jesus heals through a word at a distance.
Now, however, Jesus does not speak a word at a distance. This time, Jesus literally becomes the word which heals. Mark slows down his narration of the healing so you can see this wonder. Consider the details of how Jesus heals (verses 33-34).
Jesus literally becomes the word which heals.
Jesus takes the man away from the crowd. By removing distractions, Jesus makes it easier for this man to focus on Him. Jesus then puts His fingers into the man’s ears – the place in need of healing. He spits and puts His fingers on the man’s tongue – again, the place in need of healing. Jesus has touched the man where he is most vulnerable. He communicates to the man that He knows. He knows his suffering.
Then, Jesus reveals He also knows the man’s salvation. He looks up to Heaven, the source of this man’s healing, and He sighs.
In John’s gospel, John does not say how God spoke His Word at creation. I imagine it would have been with boldness. A creative Word spoken with courageous love. Here, however, when Jesus restores His creation, He sighs. His word is touched with sorrow. He experiences our pain. Jesus does not remain at a distance from our suffering. He fully enters it and bears its burden.
Having become the Word without words that communicates to the man – “I know your suffering and I know the source of your salvation” – Jesus then speaks. Mark records the literal word. He wants us to hear it. “Ephphatha.” With that word, the man is healed.
This is the wonder of the Word becoming flesh. Jesus uses sign language to communicate with this man. Jesus becomes the Word that brings healing.
This is the wonder of the Word becoming flesh. Jesus uses sign language to communicate with this man.
Such wonder is not limited to the man, however. It touches all of us. In Mark, Jesus repeatedly speaks to His disciples about His passion. He offers three passion predictions. What Jesus says ultimately happens. His word becomes flesh as He dies on the cross. Jesus has told His disciples that, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many” (10:45), and, on the cross, we see the promise come true. Jesus has taken on our sin, borne its punishment in His flesh, that He might give us life and salvation in His Kingdom.
The question for us, then, is how does this word and work of God take flesh in our lives? In our world, it is becoming harder and harder to speak about religion. People are not inclined to listen. Our beliefs are considered fantasy by some and hate-speech by others. It is hard for us to speak a word that gets heard.
We can, however, still touch the lives of other people. With compassion, we can show we know the source of pain. The loneliness that keeps people up at night. The fractured relationships that litter their past. The struggles of just getting by in a land of plenty.
We know things are broken. In action, we reveal that not only do we know, but we care.
Our lives have been touched by the Lord of creation. Even without speaking, we can become God’s sign language to others. God has compassion for His broken world and reaches out through us to touch and to restore. Yes, we desire to speak the words which give life, but when the world will not listen, we can still act. We can put God’s love into action. His word may be humble and hidden, but it will work and ultimately be heard.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Mark 7:(24-30) 31-37.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Mark 7:(24-30) 31-37.
Lectionary Podcast- Dr. David Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Mark 7:(24-30) 31-37.