The key to the Old Testament and Gospel readings for today is given in the very last verse of our reading from Mark (Isaiah 35:4-7a and Mark 7:31-37). After Jesus heals the deaf and mute man, Mark says, “And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.’”
Jesus heals. He brings restoration to those who are broken and to a world which is broken. In fact, our reading from Isaiah speaks of this restoration. The prophet speaks of the Lord coming to save and to restore: the wilderness will be tamed, the desert will sprout forth with life, and people will be restored.
This is, in fact, what the world is longing for: to be restored. We all know, or at least feel or sense, that the world isn’t as it should be. Things are not right; the world is broken; we are broken. Sin affects us all, whether we understand this or not, due to the original sin of Adam and Eve.
This original sin of Adam and Eve, and their subsequent fall, introduced into this world three forms of separation or brokenness into the lives of humans.
First, Adam and Eve’s sin brought alienation between humanity and God; sinful humans attempt to flee a righteous, holy Lord God. We cannot stand in His presence. We are ashamed of our nakedness before him when our sins are exposed. We attempt to cover ourselves with our own works, which still fail to justify us before God. So, we attempt to create our own gods which we can control and which make claims upon us which we can satisfy, while the Holy Lord God scares us and causes us to flee and recoil from Him, not because He is evil, but because we are.
Second, Adam and Eve’s sin brought alienation among humanity itself. People have a tough time getting along with each other. We fight, we bicker, we talk bad about each other, we spread rumors, we are unfaithful, we do things which ought not to be done while failing to do things which should be done. We treat other humans as objects to satisfy our desires.
Third, Adam and Eve’s sin brought alienation between humanity and creation itself. We are people, composed of body and soul. And yet, our bodies get sick, grow old, and die. We are at war with ourselves and with the sinful urges of our flesh. And within the world itself there is disease, natural disasters, famine, death. None of these things ought to be, and yet they are, due to the fall of Adam and Eve. It’s like the deaf and mute man; he didn’t do anything to deserve his impairments, he just suffered due to the sin of Adam and Eve. And likewise us; we inherited their original sin and suffer its repercussions. We live in a world that is broken and endure the effects of this brokenness.
And yet, the Lord intends to undo these three areas of brokenness. He wants to reconcile us with Himself, so that we no longer flee from Him and live apart from Him. He wants to reconcile us with each other, so that we no longer fight and mistreat and use each other. He wants to reconcile us with creation itself, so that we no longer decay and die.
And He is doing all this through His Son, Jesus Christ, just as He said he would do. The miracles that Jesus does in the Gospels are not an end unto themselves; that is to say, the miracles point to a greater truth. They point to the fact that Jesus is the Creator who has come to save His creation by restoring it, by patching it up and healing it, by making it the way it ought to be. Isaiah and the prophets foretold this, and the Gospels show us how Jesus is doing this by giving us a glimpse of what he has in store for all creation.
In addition, we actually have the first-fruits of this three-fold restoration now in this life within the communion of the Church. We are reconciled to God, to each other, and to creation itself through the blood of Jesus Christ. He is the man in the middle who brings us back to God, back to each other, and back to creation. Within the Church we dwell with God, with each other, and with creation – we even have God sanctifying our flesh, the waters of Baptism, and the bread and wine of the Lord’s supper. He is restoring all of creation. So, ours is not a spiritual faith, it’s a flesh and blood faith centered around the flesh and blood that went up to the cross for us and rose from the tomb for us and who dwells with us now and with whom we commune at the altar.
And that’s really James’ point in his epistle (James 2:1-10, 14-18). Our faith manifests itself in flesh and blood, and we see its fruit. He says that faith without works is dead. The point is that if we have faith, then we will have works, because you don’t have the one without the other. We are physical beings, and our faith is physical; it produces things, just as a healthy vine produces good fruit.
Since we truly have been reconciled to God, to each other, and to creation, then this reconciliation manifests itself in what we do, because what we do is a reflection of who we are. It’s like Jesus himself; his works manifested his glory as God, they served to show who he is. Similarly, our works manifest our identify as God’s people and therefore reflect God’s grace upon the world around us. You are the salt of this world that preserves and seasons it, and the light that guides and shines God’s truth, just as Jesus says you are in his Sermon on the Mount. You show the world that God loves it enough to send his Son to die for it.
And we will fail at times. We have not yet been perfected. I mentioned that we have the first fruits of the three-fold reconciliation that we, as fallen people, need. Yet, we and everything else still haven’t been fully restored. So, we still suffer the effects of sin in addition to still sinning ourselves. Until the whole creation is fully restored, this is inevitable.
In terms of metaphors, I think of this in terms of manufactured parts. Say you have two parts that you need to fit together, if one part is out-of-spec then the other part will not fit, even if it is in-spec. So, for us in this out-of-spec world, even though we are being made increasingly in-spec by being continually sanctified by God through the Holy Spirit and restored to the image of Christ, we will never be fully in-spec until the world itself is made in-spec. Everything needs to be fully restored at once for it all to fit together properly.
So we, and creation itself, owe our fall to Adam and Eve, and we therefore owe our restoration to Jesus Christ, the perfect Adam, the man/God who stands in the middle for us to reconcile us all back together, to mend this broken world.
So, I mentioned that we’ll fail in our callings in this life. We’ll sin. And yet, Christ’s blood is always there, forgiving our sin. We fall, we rise; daily dying and rising in Christ through the daily living out of our Baptisms. And the day is coming when Christ will return to complete our Baptismal promises by fully restoring us and the rest of all creation, so that we will all be in-spec and live in peace together forever. Amen.
(Image: Christ Pantocrator, detail of the Deesis mosaic. Hagia Sophia. 12th Century. Picture by Byzantinischer Mosaizist des 12. Jahrhunderts – Unknown, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1567790 )