The Whole World in His Hands?
Mark 7:31-37 (ESV) Then Jesus returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
We teach our kids to sing, “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” And it’s easy to believe that everything is in God’s hands when good things happen, when people are happy, content, at peace. But if we look outside our own tiny corner of the world, how often are happiness and peace the reality? The world is never a problem-free place, but is filled with chaos, wars, violence, destruction, brutality, fear, guilt, shame—and we can’t distance ourselves from these evils; as St. Paul puts it, we are confronted by fightings without, fears within (2 Cor 7:5).
Many people have concluded from the apparent randomness of disaster and suffering that there is no good God above the heavens, and such unbelievers often parade before us the misery of this world and taunt, “Where are the mighty hands of God in all of that? Where is your good and gracious God now?” Or as Gordon Lightfoot asks in “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” “Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?” In fact, many people choke to death on these questions, spiritually speaking, and they conclude from the miseries of this life that there is no God at all, or perhaps if there is a God, He must be weak or powerless, or He is completely indifferent and uncompassionate toward the children of man. Perhaps in the face of such questions you have found yourself speechless, like the deaf-mute in this Sunday’s Gospel reading for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity.
Some people bring this deaf-mute to Jesus and they beg Jesus to lay His hand on the man, to heal him. St. Mark says that Jesus took the man aside from the crowd privately, “put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” This was a remarkable miracle that teaches us that Jesus is the Messiah, and that He wants to open our ears to hear His Word. He also shows that He loves to have people ask for His help.
Today we still pray for the healing, helping hands of God to spare people from hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires, terrorist attacks, and all the other sufferings we experience, but we must not get the idea that He is not gracious and merciful when in His hidden counsels He permits such things to happen, even to us. Rather, we have seen the grace and mercy of God in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and so the only way we can see the gracious hands of God in history is in the taking up of human flesh by God the Son.
As sinners, we would prefer Jesus to continue to work miracles the way He did in this week’s Gospel reading – by swooping down with His strong hands, turning hurricanes back, putting out fires before they get out of control, swatting away jet planes as they fly toward skyscrapers, or preventing floods and fires – but if we expect that kind of Jesus, our ears are still plugged and we are not listening to the true Jesus, but rather to our own ideas and expectations.
The mercy and goodness of God is shown in the hands of Jesus nailed to the cross, the hands of Jesus pouring water over sinners in Holy Baptism to save them, the hands of Jesus making the sign of the cross and absolving sinners through a called minister, and the hands of Jesus reaching down and placing His own body and blood on our tongues.
So today we beg that the hands of God would bring healing and peace to our world, but most of all we pray that Jesus would reach down with His gracious hands to put His fingers into our ears and unstop them so that we can hear and believe His Word and be comforted in the midst of all our afflictions. In Jesus Christ: that is where God’s merciful and saving hands are for you. And then, confident that He is truly merciful, kind, gracious – then you can believe the unbelievable – that all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to purpose; all things, even our sufferings.
Yes, in spite of all the apparent randomness and chaos of this world, the truth is that God cares for you, each of you—and if you can swallow that, then you can give up on trying to figure out God’s ways and instead you can receive everything in your life as a gift from His hands. And everything He gives you, He blesses you with, beyond anything you can figure out. The things we can’t figure out, what we cannot recognize as for our good, we know that He knows what is for our good better than we can figure out, since Jesus went all the way to Calvary for us.
Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities and stretch forth the hand of Your majesty to heal and defend us; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.