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Posts Tagged ‘Ezekiel’

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

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

“Loving our Neighbor through Good Works”

In St. Mark’s Gospel, this healing and the healing of the Syrophoenician woman which precede it together form a turning point in Christ’s ministry.  This healing in particular shows the firstfruits of salvation from the Jewish Messiah which will come to the Gentiles after Pentecost.  Although this miracle is done privately, it is a very inclusive miracle.  Instead of healing only one of the Chosen People, Christ the Messiah heals a man from outside the Old Covenant.

Travelling with His disciples amongst the Gentiles, Jesus fulfills two Messianic prophesies.  These include Isaiah xxxv.5, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped” and Ezekiel xxiv.27, “In that day shall thy mouth be opened to him which is escaped, and thou shalt speak, and be no more dumb: and thou shalt be a sign unto them; and they shall know that I am the LORD”.

God has power over hearing and speech.  Exodus iv.11 reads, “And the LORD said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD?”.  Christ is a Jew, but He is God Incarnate.  He has power over hearing and speech.

St. Matthew 11.2-6 shows that Christ is doing the works that the Christ was prophesied to do according to the Forerunner, St. John Baptist:

2 Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples,

3 And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?

4 Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see:

5 The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.

6 And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.

 

31:  JESUS, departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, came unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis.

In this part of St. Mark’s Gospel, Christ and the disciples left the pagan region of Tyre and Sidon, the site of ancient Phoenicia and modern Lebanon, and headed back towards Judea.  They stopped off in the area of the Ten Cities, the Decapolis, on the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  These are ten Hellenistic, or culturally Greek, cities east of Samaria and Galilee, across the River Jordan.

Christ had already healed the demoniac possessed by Legion whilst visiting there before, so His reputation probably preceded Him.  According to Acts ix.2, this area was evangelized early.  Decades later, some Christians fled to one of these cities from Judea during the last war between Rome and the Jews.

32:  And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him.

The people of the Decapolis asked Christ to heal this man.  His own people asked on his behalf.  They intercede to the Son of God for his healing.  The week before last, a small group of us gathered to pray for others.  We’ll be doing that again in a few weeks.

Every Sunday and every Mass we lift up the names brought to us by the members of Christ’s Body here in this parish to God the Father Almighty, joining them in the mystical and eternal sacrifice of the Son to the Father in the Eucharist, the good gift.  We bring those we know and love to the attention of God so that he may heal them and have mercy upon them.

The local Gentiles interceded on behalf of their deaf friend who couldn’t speak to the Messiah of Israel.  They showed faith and love:  Faith that Christ could heal him and love for him that he might be healed.

33a:  And he took him aside from the multitude,

Privately, away from the public.  This is normally used for Christ alone with His disciples.

Christ avoids making miracles in public and seeks to avoid public praise for them.  He does not seek His own glory but the healing and mending of the bodies and souls of the lost.

Pseudo-Chrysostom tells that Christ took aside the man privately, “teaching us to cast away vain glory and swelling of heart, for no one can work miracles as he can, who loves humility and is lowly in his conduct.”

Indeed, pride is incompatible with thaumaturgy or wonderworking.  Pride is a sin against God.  God gives the good gifts which we work amongst our fellows.  It is through Christ that we do good works.  Sin and good works are incompatible and irreconcilable; sin and good works in Christ cannot exist together.  We must give up pride and seeking after glory for ourselves or we can no longer do good works in Christ.

33b:  and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue;

This seems rather vulgar and unbecoming the founder of our religion.  Yet this putting his hands inside his mouth and spitting makes sense.  Christ actually touched the man, showing that this world is part of God’s creation.  Christ the Son of God uses his perfect fingers and sacred spittle to touch the man in ears and on tongue to heal part of creation which has fallen away from God.

34:  and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened.

Christ heals the man with six actions:  taking aside, putting hands in the ear, spitting, touching the tongue, deep groan (“sighed”), and command of healing.  This is like our liturgical action at Mass and other services such as Baptism and Confirmation.  He looked up to Heaven.  He said ephphathah, the Aramaic word for “be opened!”  It serves as a word of power, which is not a magical incantation of superstitious nonsense.  This is a direct command from God to be healed.  As the earlier quote from Exodus iv.11 showed, Christ has the power of God to heal the deaf and mute.

St. Bede says that from Heaven comes all healing, which is why Christ looked up.  All we can do for healing also comes down from Heaven.  Whether it be our medical technology or the wise word properly delivered into the ready ear, all our help comes from our Creator and Redeemer who gives us all good things in the first place.  God uses our hands like he uses the hands of Christ for the good of our fellow man.

Likewise, the good we do must not be good only in our eyes but in the eyes of God as well.  Thus, we ought to always keep a healthy suspicion upon ourselves and watch ourselves to ensure that we do God’s work and not our own particular preferences.

35:  And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.

“His ears were opened” literally means is ‘his hearing was opened’, referring to the act of hearing not to the thing of ears.  We do hear through our ears, but the ears being restored was secondary to Christ restoring the hearing.  We see that today with the new cochlear implants which do not fix the ears but restore hearing.

36:  And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it;

God is now at work among the Gentiles.  He has said, “be opened!” and they now hear, and proclaim, and are enthusiastic.  Christ will not finish His work among the Gentiles directly; but His apostles will carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth, performing great works in His Name.  God’s plan of salvation requires we sinful humans to proclaim Christ to the world.

“so much the more a great deal they published it” – published in the sense of ‘they proclaimed it’, with the religious note of proclamation.  When I preach or proclaim the Gospel, I am publishing it.  Think of publish glad tidings, tidings of peace!  I do not publish in the manner of printing a book or magazine, but rather in proclaiming to the hearing of others personally.

It goes on, “And He charged them that they should tell no man.”  Pseudo-Chrysostom: “By which He has taught us not to boast in our powers, but in the cross and humiliation.”  Wherefore it goes on, “but the more He charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it.”

We ought not to seek praise for that which we do well and to praise those who do well to us.  Praise is not our due; even the Son of God did not seek praise.

As for those who seek the approval of others (St. Matthew vi.1-2, 5):

1 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.

2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

Christ tells us to refrain from doing our duty in public so to avoid receiving men’s praises.  Christ often refrained from performing healings in public so to avoid receiving men’s praises.  Both by word and example we are to serve humbly and obediently, willingly sacrificing our pride upon the Cross.  Remember, we can do no good thing on our own, but only insofar as we participate in Christ.

37:  and were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.

Once the people know that the man they brought forward to be healed has been healed, they get excited and pass on the news.  This is not what Christ wanted.  He healed the man because Christ is the Son of God come into the world to save us, and healing our bodily ailments is one portion of that salvation.  Today’s healing is a foretaste of tomorrow’s incorruptible bodies.

When we follow in His way, the Way of the Cross, we ought to leave others better off for having known us.  I know of many ways in which many of you have made the lives of your fellows better in this vale of suffering and tears.  It is incumbent upon us to serve our fellow man, not as an end unto itself, not as a means of gaining glory for ourselves, not even as a means of gaining glory for God, but to show forth the love of Christ unto those whom He came to save, our very own neighbors.

 

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

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

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“that ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

Neither our natural desires nor our cultural correctness will save us.  Only our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will save us.  Only through passing through the veil of His Flesh do we enter into the Holy of Holies in God’s Presence for eternity.

Wearing nice clothes won’t save us.  Speaking proper English won’t save us.  Living in the right neighborhood won’t save us.  Running with the right crowd won’t save us.  Voting conservative Republican won’t save us.  Voting liberal Democrat won’t save us.  Being a good dad won’t save us.  Loving those whom we desire to love won’t save us.

We condemn those who act out their same sex attraction but don’t bother to take a long hard look inside of ourselves to see all the sin and wickedness God sees when he looks inside of us.  God sees it all and loves us anyway.  And he expects us to get right with him and cut out all the selfish behavior and evil thoughts.  But not us.  We look down on those who fall into sins we have no desire to commit and do not love them, and yet without loving them we expect them to change.

Here’s a fact.  Nobody wants to listen to criticism from anyone they don’t trust.  When I was twelve, I was listening to a new hit song which I enjoyed very much.  I enjoyed it so much, I played it for my father.  He listened carefully, and said those words which cut through all my mess and convicted me:  “That’s not very nice.”  I was just having fun with it!  But of course, when I listened to the song with good morals and decent behavior in mind, it really wasn’t wholesome at all.  My father could say that to me, because he loved me, my mother, and my siblings.  He listened when I asked him to, and he commented after hearing me out.  I loved him and I trusted him.  Importantly, I thought highly enough of him to value his opinion.

We do not condemn the wickedness and moral laxity of our world by getting up on our high horse, thundering out judgement like a prophet of old, or by wringing our hands, shaking our heads, and tut-tutting.  After all, it is not for us to condemn the world.  Christ alone will sit in judgement of every single soul who ever lived.  We “take it to the streets” and teach the world the truth when we live redeemed lives in Christ.

We who have sinned and been forgiven owe it to God to strive powerfully in growing in the virtue opposite that sin.  A practical way to do this is to figure out which of the seven deadly sins your sin fits in.  For instance, if you only come to Sunday Mass when you feel like it, that dereliction of duty is a sin of sloth.  The opposite of sloth is diligence.  You owe it to God to practice diligence and not just try to wing it.  Winging it is what got you to skip Mass last time.  You must practice diligence.

What does practicing diligence look like?  How about this:  Measure the time it takes to get ready in the morning and count that against the time you will be appropriately early at church.  Then set your alarm to get up in time to get ready and make it to church on time.  Do you now have a hard time getting up on time?  Then prepare your Saturday evening so that you get to bed on time.  By paying attention to such details, you are actively participating in your salvation by working with God’s forgiving grace and not working against it.  As you improve in diligence, your sins of sloth will decrease.  You will have made a concrete stride in living a holier life, a life lived for Christ and in response to His free and generous gift of grace.

What about St. Paul’s teaching on anger today?  We all feel anger on occasion.  But do we let it go in and then usher it out, firmly shutting the door after it has been evicted?  Not always.  Have you ever nurtured your anger, relished it?  That is, have you thought about the person who has angered you and thought and thought about it again until you have prolonged your anger, you have deepened your anger?  If you have, then that is a sin against the love of God.  St. Paul tells us to “let not the sun go down upon your wrath.”  If we sin in anger and God forgives us, then we owe it to God “to go forth and sin no more”.  We do that by practicing the virtue opposite to anger, love.

How do you learn to love your neighbor?  By making small discrete acts of selflessness to others.  Holding the door open for another might be too showy, but especially in parish living, cleaning up after another and then not telling anybody you did it is a perfect little act of selflessness.  By many small acts of caring for another without drawing attention to yourself, you slowly learn to love others.  If you actually love your fellows, it is much harder both to get angry and to stay angry with them.  Practicing the virtue opposite your sin helps build up your life in Christ and makes you a better person, a person who more closely resembles Christ.

This practicing the opposite virtue from your sin does not go alone.  It goes along with regular discipline.  This means that you keep your six duties of churchmen and that you pray each and every day.  It does not matter that you do not feel like taking a few minutes to pray each morning – that is why it is called discipline.

We have freedom in Christ.  This does not mean that we all sprawl out lazily and do whatever we feel like because we have been Baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ.  It means that sin is defeated in us.  The trouble is that temptations continue until Christ returns again.  We must strive with all our powers not to fall into temptation.  A hard day’s work at defeating temptation only means that you made it one more day.  Think of it this way:  We are addicted to sin.  We know how to quit, but we keep falling off the wagon.  Unless we surrender ourselves to Satan and his demons and quit resisting temptation altogether, then we prosper more when we resist temptation more successfully and fall into sin less.

As St. Paul says, “that ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”  Putting off the old man is quitting the life of sin, and putting on the new man is entering into the pursuit of holiness.  Christians do not have a choice in this matter.  Those who are under the banner of our Lord Christ must fight against sin and pursue holiness.

We enter into new life in Christ through the waters of Holy Baptism.  In that amazing Sacrament, you promised, or had promised for you, to “renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the sinful desires of the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow, nor be led by them….”  It is right there in your Book of Common Prayer.  It follows after that that you promised to accept Jesus Christ “and desire to follow him as thy Saviour and Lord.”

If we believe in Christ and accept new life forever with God in his holy presence, then we must put off the old man and put on the new man.  Our lives must change.

So I ask you:  Are you leading a holier life than you were?  Are you behaving in a more moral fashion than you were?  Do you pray more effectively than you used to?  Do you read more Scripture than you used to?  Do you attend to worship, communion, fasting, tithing, chastity, and confession of your sins better than before?  If not, then ask yourself:  How have I slipped?  Then recall God the Father’s great love for you and how he sent His only Son into the world to save your soul from death and sin.  Then ask yourself:  What must I do to improve, to grow?

Ezekiel prophesied and the Lord asked him, “can these bones live?”  No matter how dry you feel inside, no matter how weary you feel with struggling with the same sins decade after decade, God loves you and wishes for you to live to the fullness of his glory.  He made you.  He loves you.  He empowers you.

Next Sunday, God willing, we will all witness the miraculous Sacrament of Confirmation, the seal of the Holy Ghost laid upon one of our regular visitors, Mrs. Aileen Cappa.  In this Holy Sacrament, she will be strengthened by the Holy Ghost and receive the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Ghost.  She will never be the same.  She will be changed for eternity.  All Christians have supernatural assistance against the wiles of the world, the flesh, and the devil by virtue of Holy Baptism.  In Confirmation, she will be further strengthened and given those holy gifts bestowed by the Holy Ghost and found in Scripture.

We are weak, but God is on our side.  God is not on our side to give us those selfish things we want for ourselves, but rather God is on our side because we have joined God’s side against sin and death and the devil.  We are changed by virtue of the God’s grace.

So I ask you again:  Are you leading a more Godly life today than you were before?  If not, what are you going to do about that?

 

“that ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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“Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

Christ brings his disciples three things in this Gospel lesson:  First, He brings His Resurrected and Glorified Body.  Second, He brings peace to his disciples.  Third, He brings them the Holy Ghost and the power to remit and retain sins.

First, Christ shows them His Resurrected and Glorified Body.

In this Gospel lesson, Christ makes his way past the locked doors of the disciples’ room and “came and stood in the midst” of them.  Afterward, He showed them “his hands and his side”.  If we think about this, we should be almost as astonished as the disciples were.  On the one hand, Christ can make it past the locked doors into the midst of the room.  On the other hand, He showed them the Sacred Wounds of His Crucifixion.

We are familiar with the concept of ghosts who can walk through walls.  We are also familiar with showing people our scars.  But the two together do not make sense.  Christ’s Resurrected Body is corporeal in the wounds to His hands and side and yet is also capable of passing through material objects.  This does not fit neatly within the words and categories with which we normally think.

But after all, if the stone in front of the tomb could not hold Christ, neither could the locked door in front of the disciples.  Christ was not simply resuscitated; His Body did not just regain the life it had lost.  Instead, Christ experienced Resurrection, new life where the old had died, and this is exactly the new life which He promises to those of us who follow Him.  We too will have glorified bodies in the general resurrection of the dead.  We too will have bodies like Christ’s Body shown here in St. John’s Gospel.

Second, Christ brings peace to the disciples.

The events of this lesson occur on the evening of Easter Day.  Why were they afraid?  Christ had been killed and laid in the grave.  They had a report that He was now alive again.  They were frightened.  They were confused.  At this time, Christ comes to them through the locked door, stood in the midst of them, and tells them, “Peace be unto you.”  Suddenly, their incredulity at the word of St. Mary Magdalene vanishes, for they have beheld the Son of God risen from the tomb with their very own eyes!  The nail prints and spear wound prove to them Who He is.  He shows them evidence of Who He was to them, and they believe Him.

Remember, these men fled during Christ’s Passion.  They had failed Him by fleeing, now they crave the peace which He brings to them.  They had thought that Christ had failed them by dying, and lo! He appears among them!  His disciples respond with joy to seeing their Risen Lord.  They had heard St. Mary Magdalene’s testimony which now they believe whole-heartedly.  Christ has brought peace to the disciples.

Peace means not having to fear.  They were hiding behind a locked door in fear when Christ brought them peace.  Part of their commissioning is to bring that peace and witness of the presence of Christ from that first day of the week to all believers for years afterward.  They will bring Christ’s forgiveness to all.

Third, Christ gives them the Holy Ghost and the power to remit and retain sins.

“Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.”   The different Gospels give specific instances of how the mission work with which Christ commissions the Apostles is to be carried out.  In St. Matthew, we read “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:  Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”   In St. Mark, we read “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.  He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”   In St. Luke we read, “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”  Here in St. John, we find the remitting and retaining of sins.

The Apostles are to continue Christ’s mission, for as the Son has been sent by the Father, so the Apostles are to be sent by the Son.  It is these Christians who show forth the presence of Christ.   Earlier in St. John we read, “Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me.  And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me.”  Christ breathes on them and gives them the Holy Ghost with the power to remit and retain sins.  Christ commissions them to go out and spread His Good News.

By breathing the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles, Christ has given them eternal life and the ability to confer eternal life upon others.  The power to forgive sins gives these disciples the power to confer to others eternal life.  We find a similar notion in Ezekiel, in the passage of the Valley of Dry Bones:  “Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live:  And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the LORD.”

St. John is not alone in giving His followers the power to forgive sins and the power to withhold forgiveness of sins.  St. Matthew speaks of binding and loosing “whatever”; St. Matthew relates this in Christ giving the keys to St. Peter.  St. John makes it specifically about sins.  Of course, forgiving and holding sins implies authority over status of communion with the community, restoring members back to its good graces, and excommunicating members.  This authority is used when a priest acts in the Sacrament of Penance.

The Sacrament of Penance does not entirely depend upon this verse, but this verse does inform Holy Mother Church in making Penance a Sacrament which only priests (and bishops) are allowed to enact.  In our Book of Common Prayer, the Ordination Rite reads:  “Receive ye the Holy Ghost … Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained.”  This comes directly from this Twentieth Chapter of St. John’s Gospel.

Christ came into the world to restore men to Himself and to the Father.  This mission and bestowal directly aids this mission.  For them to be sent forth and to remit and retain sins, they must be preaching the Gospel, like it says in the other Gospels.  They must go forth and instruct the people concerning God, they must move the hearts of people concerning God, and they must take their place in the high drama of converting souls.  This is their charge, this is their ability, this is their duty.

The power and purpose of Christ’s Resurrection does not end with that first Easter, nor with all the countless little Easters thereafter.  The presence of Christ, the peace of Christ, and the forgiveness of sins starts at that empty tomb but spirals outward throughout all the world.

 

The Apostles spread the faith of Christ Jesus throughout the world, they suffered humiliations and death bravely, and they passed onto us, two millennia later, the Christian faith.  They had failed Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, but they did not fail Christ in reaching the corners of the earth.

We can see that the disciples receiving the peace of Christ and receiving the Holy Ghost and the ability to forgive and retain sins is all predicated upon the witness of the disciples beholding our risen Lord with the nail prints in his hands and the spear wound in his side.  Christ is truly bodily risen.  Make no mistake, this is not any literary or allegorical understanding; Christ is risen in His glorified Body, bearing the marks of His victory over sin, death, Hell, and Satan.  Only since His very physical yet glorified Body is risen does Christ breathe the Holy Ghost out upon the disciples.

 

“Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

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