He lived in a world of profound loneliness. A world of silence. Utter silence because he was deaf. And utter loneliness because he could not speak. A loneliness so profound that it made it painful to look at him, I think. So, I suppose, people didn’t. Which made it even worse. But into his world of such loneliness, something wonderful was going to happen. And it would happen then the only way it will happen now–when Christ and his Word is involved.
Some people (the man’s parents? aunts/uncles? siblings?), bring this deaf man who can apparently only make noises, no words, to Jesus. They want Jesus to “…place his hand on the man.” But Jesus does not do that, does he. Jesus seldom does exactly what you ask him to do, isn’t that true. Because he already has something much better in mind. So instead of placing his hand on the man, Jesus pulls the man aside, to work with him, one on one. So personal. Because the soul-wrenching issue for this man was not his handicaps, as severe as they were, but his isolation, his profound loneliness.
And you think about that, because loneliness was not just a problem in Bible times, was it, is it. “All the lonely people, where do they all come from. All the lonely people, where do they all belong?” How many different kinds of lonelinesses are there? There’s this man’s kind of loneliness. Then there’s the loneliness of pain. Physical pain, which is bad enough because no one can suffer it but you alone. But emotional pain makes you feel a thousand times more lonely, as you try to move forward, after the funeral, after the divorce, after the devastating news. They say time heals all wounds, but as someone once observed, we don’t live long enough to see if that is actually true. Then there’s the loneliness of being young, surrounded by screens and media and people and yet sometimes feeling so alone. And the loneliness of middle age, when you can’t quit your job because you have too many financial responsibilities, but at the same time you wonder, “How long can I keep this up?” And the loneliness that comes with old age, as God starts cutting our ties to the earth so that we look up more often than we look down.
But do you know what the loneliest form of loneliness is? Your own conscience. The loneliness of your own sin. That’s when conscience comes to us, in the lonely hours; it wakens us in the night; it stands at the side of the bed, parades our past sins right before us, and our present stupidities, and our future “what if’s.” Next morning we get up, tired, and go to work, go to school, and paste on a smile as if everything is OK. But conscience has had its revenge. That is the worst form of loneliness.
But into this world of such lonelinesses steps Jesus Christ and he brings words, his words. Which make something wonderful happen.
“Jesus took the man aside, away from the crowd.” The jostling and chaos of that crowd must have been terrifying for this man. So Jesus takes the man and walks with him a ways (maybe put his arm around his shoulder?), to get by themselves. And then our Lord does what seems like an odd thing. “Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears.” Jesus, it seems, was communicating to the man what he intended to do, to heal his hearing. “Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue.” It seems Jesus was communicating to the man that the “chain” that was tying up the man’s tongue was going to get “loosened up” and “spit out.” (In fact, that’s the word used for the healing of his tongue, our text says, “at this the man’s ears were opened and his tongue loosened.”)
And the touching–touching the ears, touching the man’s tongue—how incredibly personal, even intimate. Somehow Jesus must have made this man feel totally at ease, so much so that this personal touching felt welcome and not freaky. Jesus didn’t just touch the man and heal him like the relatives had asked, like he had done for so many others before. He treated this lonely, isolated man like an individual.
He has done the same with you. Always does. Each blessing you have has been a tailor made gift for you.
But the best time when he treated you like an individual was at your baptism. The Triune God who forgives the sins of all of us in the Gospel comes to you, just to you in your baptism to wash away YOUR sins. He even calls you by name through the pastor so you can’t miss the point—I am washing YOUR sins away and promising heaven to YOU. And the God who “so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,” comes to you, just to you, in the Lord’s Supper and says, “I so loved YOU that I gave my one and only Son specifically for you—you, the one receiving my Son’s body and blood, in, with, and under that bread and wine, specifically for YOUR salvation.” That’s the best individual treatment. And a wonderful thing to think of when conscience comes calling during the lonely hours of night.
And then Jesus looks up and sighs; probably like this man himself had done a thousand times. And he says, “Ephphatha”, which is Aramaic for “Be opened.” And “at this the man’s ears were opened and his tongue loosened and he began to speak plainly.”
Suddenly this man’s world was wide open. The stale musty air of his lonely existence suddenly had the windows and doors thrown wide open and gusts of fresh air were rushing in. He could hear the birds and the breeze and….people. He could hear them. And for maybe the first time in his life tell them what he was thinking, and feeling, and that he preferred his goat steaks medium rare not well done. Suddenly this man’s world was wide open.
And, suddenly this man would be able to use his ears and words to do what God intends to be the first thing we do with our ears and mouth—listen to his Word and sing his praises. Later on, Jesus will tell one of his parables, and he will finish by saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” And Jesus will turn and maybe this man will be in the crowd and Jesus will catch his eye and this man will be grinning. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Because that is why God gave you ears. So you could hear and learn his Word. That is how the Holy Spirit works the gift of faith in your heart and strengthens your faith. And isn’t it kind of God to let us use our ears also to listen to music and to sports radio and to teachers and to Youtube and to friends and to movies? Whoever gets that backwards, acts like the gift of hearing is his to do with as he wants, is acting like a spoiled child and needs to repent—otherwise there will be hell to pay. And hell is the loneliest place of all. And God gave us our mouths first and foremost so we might sing his praises. And isn’t it kind of God that he also lets us use our mouths to have conversations with others, to sing secular songs, to laugh at jokes, to make animal noises when you sing “Old Macdonald Had a Farm”? Whoever gets that backwards, acts like the gift of speech is mine to do with as I wants, is acting like a spoiled child and needs to repent—otherwise there will be hell to pay. And hell is the loneliest place of all.
But in using our hearing and speaking foremost in our relationship with God and THEN with others–this is how our Lord breaks through our loneliness.
First by coming to us himself and taking up residence in our hearts by faith and promising, “I am with you always.” And so it is that, by faith in Christ, you are never alone. And then he teaches us that we are here to serve others, just as Christ has served us—and he brings plenty of other people into our life to serve, if only we are not blinded by self-preoccupation. For if serving others is the Miracle-Gro for the flowers of friendship, then self-preoccupation is the fertilizer for the weeds of loneliness.
“And they were amazed and said, “He has done everything well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” And if that is true, Jesus does everything well (and it is; in fact, it is an understatement of Biblical proportions)—if he does all things well in pleasant things like the healing in our text, is it not also true when Jesus does the difficult things, like letting this man suffer deafness and muteness in the first place? Or letting you and me suffer times of loneliness, sometimes loneliness so intense it wakes you up at night?
Our Lord is doing all things well at those times, too; for it is when we feel so alone that we are motivated to hold on to his promises like a first-time ice skater holds on to the arm of the steady person teaching him how to skate.
And that is when something wonderful happens. For the most wonderful things always involve Christ and his Word. For he does all things well. Not just for people. But for individuals, like you. Amen.