Saturday, September 10, 2011

Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

Mark 7:31-37

“He hath done all things well: He maketh both the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak.”

We come to Christ completely deaf and dumb, unable to hear and to speak. Before He healed this man, Jesus looked up to heaven and sighed. This detail which Mark records, His having looked up to heaven and having sighed, is mysterious, but it could have to do with His desire for us not only to have ears, but ears to hear. He was about to heal this man’s ears so that he could hear natural sounds; yet how often our Lord said, concerning the truth of the Word of God, “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” Isaiah the Prophet was called to speak to a generation which did not have eyes to see, ears to hear and a heart to understand; they could not turn and be healed. Jesus said that the generation to which Isaiah spoke was not of that prophet’s own time, but the generation who, in the presence of the Word made flesh, could not see, could not hear, could not understand.

Many times I have heard people say that Christ spoke in parables so that the people could understand His teaching. Did He now? Did He not rather say that He spoke to the crowd in parables because it was not given to them to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven? To His disciples was it given to know these mysteries, but to those who were outside of the Kingdom it was not given. He went on to say to His disciples, “But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears for they hear (Matt 13: 16).” The mysteries of God’s Kingdom cannot be known except by the work of the Holy Ghost; nor can they be uttered unless He gives us speech. If our ears hear the word of God it is the gift of the Holy Ghost; if our speech is seasoned with grace, it is the gift of the Holy Ghost.

By now I hope that you understand that I speak of two sacraments which are bound together: Baptism and Confirmation. By one we are given life by the Holy Spirit regenerating us, and by the other, through the laying on of apostolic hands, wisdom and power from the Holy Spirit residing within us. Christ does indeed touch our ears and our tongue, giving the gifts of hearing and of speech. We can hear the Word of God, and then, like the man who was also healed of the impediment in his speech- and as our King James Bible puts it, “spake plain”- so can we speak clearly, with words that impart life. But without His Holy Spirit we would remain deaf and dumb.

How important this is in a world which is at its best confused, at its worst simply evil. Many sounds are blaring around us, competing for our attention; and many of the words which appear to be the wisest and best are words which impart only death, selling ideas which lead only into sin and error. People seem to catch their beliefs and opinions, or as they often say today, their “feelings” about important matters of life and death, as they catch a virus. Few opinions are thought through; almost none are what can be called conclusions, for no thought is evident in them. But, even the best thinking cannot, by itself, reveal the truth Christ teaches, because it still lacks the element of grace, the supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit. “If the light that is in you is darkness; how great is that darkness (Matt. 6:23).”
Nonetheless, for us there is this sober warning: Simply having received the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation does not guarantee that we will hear as we ought, or that we will have speech seasoned with grace. For, simply having ears that can hear is not enough; what Jesus said was “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” That is, we must learn the discipline of hearing; and until we have heard we have nothing to say. To hear, the first thing to do is to dust off the Bible, and the second thing is to open it.

What did Jesus mean by His clear implication that some ears cannot hear the Word of God? What is hearing then? As a reader of the Hebrew language, let me begin to answer by pointing out that the Hebrew word for “hear” is the same word as the word “obey.” The word is sh’mai- as in “sh’mai Israel” or “Hear O’ Israel.” In ancient Jewish understanding, to hear is to obey- and to obey is to hear. “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the Law, even his prayer shall be an abomination,” says the Book of Proverbs (28:9); what is the warning to us? That drawing near to God without a heart to obey Him is like the unacceptable sacrifice of the murderer Cain. To hear, as Christ speaks of ears that hear, we must have an obedient heart.

So then, how do we hear, how do we learn, what do we obey?

As we have seen, we cannot hear the Word of God unless our attitude of heart is obedience to that Word. All around us today is the spectacle of clergymen speaking false doctrine intended for consumption by people who are described in the First Epistle of St. Peter as having “itching ears”- itching ears instead of ears to hear. “The voice of the demonic,” to borrow a phrase from David Mills, is no ordinary deception, but a very crafty sort of trickery which begins, continues and ends with the assumption that evil is good, and good is evil. It is subtle, and shameless. The whole point is to create a body of teaching, indeed, an excuse, for those who are not obedient to God, but who desire, nonetheless, the illusion of being religious and spiritual.

If we do wish to obey God, however, how do we know the voice of Christ from other voices, especially from the voice of the demonic?

Unfortunately, modern people have embraced a free for all method of private interpretation about the Bible and religion in general. The subjective opinions and even the feelings of would be teachers is prevalent, such as the kind that the Apostle Paul warned of, “who desire to be teachers.” It is, in fact, the basis for non-Christian Arian cults, such as those most unfortunate and deceived people who knock on your door on Saturday mornings to feed you their indoctrination. They are so misled by their false ideas about God that they would, if law still allowed, offer their children in sacrifice, denying something as good and useful as a blood transfusion- all because they have bought a weird interpretation of scripture, one which rejects and defies the Tradition of the Church, the mind of Christ. But, the Bible is the Book of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, not of the cults.

So, we need Scripture interpreted by the Traditional Right Reason God has given to His Church. Let me point out, however, what this is not. First of all, it is not a system of checks and balances, in which three equal things are weighed against each other. Second, a thing we choose to call “experience” does not equal what we value as the Apostolic Tradition.
Obviously, an interpretation that is based upon madness or fanaticism, the old “Enthusiasms” as they were called, is not what St. Paul calls “the mind of Christ.” For example, when Jesus speaks of plucking out our eye to avoid sin, it is a wrong and unreasonable interpretation to think that He meant it literally. We all have heard of snake handlers, and their interpretation of scripture defies the reason of every sane person. So does the reasoning of Mary Baker Eddy and the “Christian Scientists” who invite death or bad health to themselves and their children by refusing the use of all medical knowledge. The same problem exists among those who refuse medicine in the name of “Faith healing.” “Right Reason” saves us from lunacy. As G.K Chesterton said, “When Religion would have maddened men, theology kept them sane.”1
Experience is subjective, especially if it is filled with emotion; but the Tradition is objective, and it is, quite frankly, inflexible on all essential matters of Faith and morals - thank God. Without it, we can make the Bible mean whatever we please, and without it many people are actually being harmed by those who subject the Bible to their own warped interpretations, using it to do harm, both physical and spiritual harm. Surgical tools do good in the right hands; in the wrong hands they would kill and maim people, no matter how much a deluded person might think himself qualified to use them, and no matter how well he sells alleged surgical skills that, in fact, he does not really possess.
Acquiring “ears to hear” is impossible without humility, the humility it takes to learn. It requires faith in God and the revelation He has given of Himself through His Apostles and Prophets. It requires obedience to God and to the mind of Christ, His Reason and wisdom, that have always been present in His Church. If we have ears to hear, then we also have a tongue seasoned with grace, able to speak His truth.

1. Chesterton, G.K., Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox, 1933, London

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