In the name of the Father…
Riddle me this… I am often held but rarely touched, always wet but I never rust, I often bite and am seldom bit, to use me well you must have wit. What am I? A tongue. A small yet, significant muscle in our body. It holds physical and philosophical powers. The power to taste, the power to express emotion, the power to create and destroy. It has often been argued that the tongue truly is the most powerful part of our created body. Not our minds, which continually we can change. Not our hearts, which as hard as it may be to change, can still be controlled. Our tongues, which throughout Holy scripture and even ancient philosophy whether Greek or Oriental – the tongue has always been seen as an uncontrollable sword, a fire, which has power to destroy or build up.
In the Letter of St. James Chapter 3 we read, “the tongue is a little member and boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by humankind, but no human being can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” Proverbs 10 “The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the mind of the wicked is of little worth.”… “The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut off.” Epictetus, a Greek Stoic philosopher says, “for nature has given man on tongue and two ears, in order for him to listen twice and speak once.” Even in Armenian we have sayings such as, “a kind word will help take a snake out of its pit”
Regardless, what language we use, regardless century we look at, the tongue has always alluded our control and been seen as a weapon or a tool. And in today’s Gospel we meet a man who was deaf but also who had an impediment in his speech. We read that Christ “put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said to him, ‘Eph′phatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” (Mark 7.31-37 RSV) Now when we read this story by itself, we read of Christ Jesus performing a miracle. Yet, what is the deeper meaning of this miracle?
At the beginning of Chapter 7, we read of the Pharisees protesting against Christ and his disciples, who were eating with unclean hands. And Christ begins to teach them that it is not what they put into their body that makes them unclean but rather what comes out that defiles them. Now going back to the Gospel reading, I want to focus on the word mute or impediment in his speech. In Armenian the word used is hamr, showing that the individual is mute. In Greek, mogilalon – meaning someone who stutters. And in Greek this word it is used only in one other place, in the book of Isaiah 35:6 – “then shall the lame man leap like a hart, and the tongue of the dumb [or mogilalon], sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;” The fact that this word is only used once, means it has a connection and we can assume that Mark had this verse in mind, strategically using the same word. And Mark careful use of this word, mogilalon or this form of stuttering, is not merely a repetition of words but rather was understood as a mute, someone unable to express themselves. But we only see this at the end of today’s gospel, “And they [the people] were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well; he even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.” And what is interesting is what does the rest of Is. 35 speak of? In what context is this word found?
Is. 35, which speaks about the redemption of Zion and the revelation of the King, of God. Meaning that true freedom, true redemption can only come in the presence of God our King, Jesus Christ. And Mark intends for us to see this connection by using the deaf and mute man as a symbolism of all humanity – in our deafness and muteness to the divine message of salvation. Repeatedly we see throughout scripture Christ emphasizing those who have ears should hear, those who have eyes should see, and the chapter begins with the Pharisees blindly criticizing Jesus and without recognizing the King, their lips condemned them. Therefore, its no surprise that in the next Chapter, we read how when Christ asks the disciples who do people say I am, and Peter and the rest answer, “you are the Son of God”. An answer revealed not by man, but by God. Not one that can be heard by physical ears or said by plain tongue but through the Holy Spirit in the heart of a redemptive person.
My dear brothers and sister, true freedom comes from Christ our Lord. Before Christ came, humanity was deaf, we were not able to fully understand the teachings of God. That is why we constantly read in the Old Testament, of the people of Israel not understanding what God was teaching them. They looked but they could not see, they heard but were not listening. We were mute, for we were not able to control our tongue and we believed that what we “ate” was what kept us clean. Yet, Christ here is showing us that only through Him our ears have been opened to the true Word of Salvation and our tongues have been freed. Our redemption is in the revelation of Christ. And in that revelation lies our freedom, our healing, our ability to be cleaned. This is why we sing every Sunday, “Christ amongst us is revealed” (Kristos i mej mer Haytnetsav). For it is not what enters into our stomachs that makes us unclean but the wickedness that comes from us. And the reason we see the image of the tongue is because of how powerful it can be in its holiness and in its wickedness.
Our tongues builds up, spreads love, speaks with God and yet, in the same breath curses those around us and speaks hate. How many of us come to Church, take communion, leave Church and perhaps are filled with hate because of an argument with our spouse or maybe have a phone call that angers us? And in that moment we are filled with hate and God knows what words come to our mind or even fill our hearts. Yet, only moments ago, we were in here praying. We fast, we don’t eat, we read inspirational books on how to find God, yet, we try our best to avoid each other. Perhaps we begin our day with prayer and yet, because of a small negativity we then use that same tongue for wickedness. I can’t tell you how many times, after I have prayed and maybe 5-10 mins later I stub my toe and out comes not so nice words. Sure it may seem insignificant, yet, a blaze to a forest can be started with one insignificant match. That one moment of anger can ruin my entire day. That one moment of wickedness can fill my life with constant wickedness.
In English we have a saying for someone who curses too much? “You kiss your mother with that mouth?” Well my dear brothers and sister, do we praise God with this mouth, with this hearts, with this mind? The same mouths, hearts, and minds that do wickedness, that shows hate, contempt, anger and judgment? In Christ, we have been set free. In Christ we have been cleaned. Why do we defile ourselves, why do we make ourselves prisoners? We have heard the Good news of salvation, the deaf can hear and the mute can speak, the dead will rise again. These are not merely slogans for political campaigns. No, this is the truth, a truth found only in Christ Jesus, given to us daily.
Let us come to Jesus, our Lord, our King and ask for him to open our ears, our eyes, our minds and our tongues. So that we will recognize Him. A recognition not merely in words but in actions. Not merely in prayer but in the way we treat each other. For we have been saved through Christ Jesus. Տէր եթէ զշրթունս իմ բանաս, բերան իմ երգեսցէ զօրհնութիւնս Քո։ Օրհնեալ է Աստուած։ Lord, if you open my lips may they sing praises to you. Blessed is our Lord. Amen!