Ears to Hear, a Tongue to Speak
“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. “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” By one we are given life by the Holy Spirit regenerating us, and by the other 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, and our words can 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. The light that is in them is darkness; how great is that darkness.
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.
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; 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. It is not enough simply to be able to hear; we must 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 that we are willing to be obedient to that Word. All around us today is the spectacle of clergymen speaking false doctrine intended for consumption by that group of people who are described in the First Epistle of St. Peter as having “itching ears”- itching ears instead of ears to hear. There always will be a demand for false teachers. My friend, the Editor of Touchstone Magazine, David Mills, keeps a computer file which he calls “the voice of the demonic.” As I understand it, the voice of the demonic 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, with subtlety and yet brazen shamelessness. I would say that many of the recent attempts to justify the latest twists and turns of the new modern religion is the voice of the demonic, especially their interpretation- so called- of scripture. The whole point is to create a teaching for those who do not wish to be obedient to God, but who desire, nonetheless, the illusion of being religious and spiritual people.
If we do wish to obey God, however, how do we know the voice of Christ from the other voices, even from the voice of the demonic?
The Anglican answer is best summed up by the great Richard Hooker, and the three part method we use: Scripture, Right Reason and Tradition. I would say, however, that this was no new idea; it is what we see the ancient Church practicing in the early centuries, the time of what we call “the undivided Church.”
Why do we not simply rely upon “the Bible alone?” Let me answer this way: Yes, the whole truth is in scripture, and anything that cannot be proved from it is to be rejected, for it fails to meet the standard of “most certain warrant of Holy Scripture.” But, the Church is needed as our guide to understand scripture correctly. The Bible says so, for it calls the Church “the Pillar and ground of the truth.” And, the Bible tells us that the scriptures are not to be subjected to “any private interpretation.”
Unfortunately, “the Bible Alone” method is all too often a free for all of private interpretation, the subjective opinions and even the feelings of would be teachers, 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. Such as are so misled by their false ideas about the Bible that they would offer their children to their cruel notion of God through the sacrifice of denying something as good and useful as a blood transfusion- all because they have bought an interpretation of scripture which rejects and defies the Tradition of the Church. Look, the Church existed before the Bible was complete; the Bible is the Book of the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, not of the cults.
So, we need Scripture interpreted by the Tradition, and a mind that possesses Right Reason to understand. Let me point out, however, what this is not. First of all, it is not a system of checks and balances. Second, it is not scripture, reason and experience. What the false teachers who use our Anglican label, or the Episcopal label, have come to practice in the last few years is a complete perversion of the whole idea.
The Reason we use is not our own cleverness; it is not the wit of a lawyer’s brief in making an absurd case. The phrase is not simply “reason”, but “Right Reason.” Put simply, an interpretation that is based upon madness or fanaticism, the old “Enthusiasms” as they were called, is obviously not what St. Paul calls “the mind of Christ.” When Jesus speaks of casting out our eye to avoid sin, it is an 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 could make men mad, theology keeps them sane.”
And what do we mean by Tradition? We do not mean experience. The cute little trend these days is to replace the word Tradition with “experience.” Then they say, well the Bible says thus and so, but our experience teaches the opposite, and so we must adjust our reading of the Bible to our experience. The Bible says that a man shall not lie with a man, but our experience- or so they presume to say- teaches that it is okay. Then they turn it around, and put back the word Tradition, a word they infuse with all sorts of negative emotion to evoke an irrational prejudice, and come to the silly conclusion that the Bible justifies the “ordination” of women- and I can prove that it does not- but tradition is against it, so we must throw out the tradition.
More often than not, however, they prefer to say “experience” instead of “Tradition.” Why do they do this? Remember what I said, Scripture, Right Reason and Tradition is not a system of checks and balances. We do not separate these three things and compare them against each other. We do not say, for example, the Bible says this, but Tradition balances it out by saying that, and so we come to the truth by weighing them. This would be all wrong. Think of these three as we do the Trinity- these three are one. What the Bible says is taught in the Tradition of the Church, and only by that Tradition can someone with Right Reason come to a true understanding. Experience is subjective, especially if it is filled with emotion; but the Tradition is objective, and it is, quite frankly, inflexible- 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.
Dynamite and surgical tools in the right hands can do good; in the wrong hands they kill and maim people. I have news for you- without the Tradition of the Church, as St. Vincent of Lerins put it- “that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all”-and without the sanity of Right Reason, the Bible is dangerous. Sorry if that bothers anyone, but it is obviously, and I do mean obviously, true.
But, Jesus Christ provides for us this gift by His healing hand: if we are willing and obedient to submit to Scripture, Right Reason and Tradition, and if the Holy Spirit of God resides within us, we will have ears to hear, and also will have the string of our tongue loosed to speak the words of life without impediment.
And now unto God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost be ascribed, as is most justly due, all might, majesty, power, dominion and glory, now and forever.