God's Reach Into Our Humanity
"Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ (‘Be opened!’)." ~ Mark 7:33-34
I. We all feel the absence of God at times.
This feeling sums up modern life. The minute we step out of these church doors, we step into a sort of hazy vacuum. The air we breathe doesn’t feel holy. Our car, home, office, and wherever you go doesn’t seem sacred in any way. Our thoughts are choked up by the endless ‘to do’ list, the adds on television, and the monotony of ordinary life. If we’re honest with ourselves, God just doesn’t feel pertinent to most hours in the week. That is because we have failed to really comprehend and enter into the message of the Gospel.
II. Why would Jesus Christ heal the deaf and mute with spit and sweat?
The scripture is clear. Jesus Christ and His disciples were on the road when they met the man. He was deaf and had an impediment in his speech. No doubt, his friends were escorting him, with some small hope for a cure. Christ looked at the man and called him out from the crowd. He reached forth and laid a hand on the man’s ears. Then He moistened His finger and touched the handicapped tongue, commanding with all heavenly authority, “Be opened.”
It seems like a strange way for God to heal. Jesus Christ was there at the start of time and wove together the world with His thoughts. Why bother reaching out and touching the deaf man’s ears? What was the purpose of all the spit?
You won’t understand Christianity until you understand this.
III. Our relationship with God is as physical as it is spiritual.
Jesus Christ wasn’t a phantom appearing like a man for a time. He wasn’t a spirit walking about in the canister of a body. You’d think this nowadays, in a Christian culture that can only be called gnostic. We’ve forgotten how important our body is in our relationship with God. We live as though the spirit world is one thing and the physical, human world another. This is why the teachings and rituals of the Orthodox Church can be hard to swallow. Even if we believe in it all, we have to push to really get it. We’re used to having our own space, our own life – a life aside from our Sunday religion. But that isn’t Christianity.
Christ healed the deaf and mute with a touch of his hand and the spit from his mouth. In the same way, He reaches out to us today, body and soul, in the Church.
IV. Jesus Christ became a new kind of human.
“The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam a life-giving spirit…The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:45).
What this means is very simple. The more we give our lives over to Jesus Christ, the more our humanity becomes sanctified. This means your body, home, car, office, schedule.
Here are St. Paul’s words on the matter. “Do you not know,” he writes, “that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom. 12:1). “The Lord Jesus Christ…will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Ph. 3:20-21). The Christian life is a life filled up in everyway with the presence of God.
V. This is the core of the Orthodox Way.
This is why we start the New Year by having our houses blessed. It isn’t a simply lovely ritual. The very physical holy water banishes evil and changes the air we breathe. This is why we don’t believe it’s enough to make your confession alone in the shower or out on a walk. We need the physical touch, words and presence of the priest, because God is present with us body and soul in the Church.
St. John Chrysostom tells us that if we’re on the road and see to the left a huge archangel and to the right a disheveled priest, first go to the priest, make a prostration and kiss his hand. God has chosen to use us humans to work out his salvation for the world. In a mystical way, the priest is a physical manifestation of Christ, and his hand is an icon of the hand of God. Whether we are honoring the priest, icons, vestments or the beauty of nature, we always encounter God in a way as thoroughly physical as spiritual. God saves us body and soul.
VI. There was a debate in the 7th century about the use of icons.
Christians have painted and venerated icons since the first years of the Church. However, the spread of Islam challenged the practice and stirred up a lot of debate. In the heart of this, a man named John of Damascus was most famous for defending the use of icons. Here’s what he writes,
“Of old, God the incorporeal and uncircumscribed was never depicted. Now, however, when God is seen clothed in flesh, and conversing with men, I make an image of the God whom I see. I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake, and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honoring that matter which works my salvation”
St. John goes on to say, “The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God.”
VII. If we want to live a Christian life, then we need to embrace and celebrate life for what it is.
"[He] put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ (‘Be opened!’)." ~ Mark 7:33-34
The paintings on the walls of church, the peace in our chanting, the absolution from the priest, the touch of holy water, the prayers said over a family meal, and the life built around our sacred calendar. All of it is that same reaching out of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
He is with us and He heals us. Glorify Him!