Then he 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.”
When we read the Bible, a helpful practice is to read it imaginatively, meaning that in the narratives, we should put ourselves in the events and imagine what it would be like to have been there. We should especially do this if we’ve heard a passage before and think we already know it. In Mark 7:31-37, we find a great example to read imaginatively—when Jesus heals a deaf and mute man. If we read this event in this manner, I think we will end up like the crowd at the end: astonished beyond measure (v. 37). We might also see ourselves in this event in a way that shows why the passage is still deeply impactful for us today. As we consider the context of Mark, we see that Jesus is not only performing a miraculous physical healing (something that was indeed a very important aspect of His compassionate ministry). He is also making a point to His disciples, who were slow to understand His teaching. Since the feeding of the 5000 in Mark 6, Jesus began to intensify the revealing of His person and purpose to His disciples, yet they did not give much of a response. Where the man was physically deaf, they were spiritually deaf. Yet just as Jesus healed the physical deafness of the man, He was in the process of healing the spiritual deafness of His disciples (as Mark will soon show us). They had been around Jesus, but they had not truly been receptive to what He was showing them about who He was and why He came. The same thing can be true for us today.
A.W. Tozer once wrote, “I venture to suggest that the one vital quality which the great saints had in common was spiritual receptivity…Receptivity is not a single thing; it is a compound rather, a blending of several elements within the soul. It is an affinity for, a bent toward, a sympathetic response to, a desire to have…It is a gift of God, indeed, but one which must be recognized and cultivated as any other gift if it is to realize the purpose for which it was given” (emphasis added). As is the case in Mark’s gospel, Jesus must give the gift of spiritual receptivity, and we must cultivate it when we receive it. How do we do so?
As I am writing this, it is crazy to think that we are about a year removed from COVID shutdowns taking place. Especially during those first few months, I remember many leaders calling for a total reimagination of ministry. During that season, I was struck by something J.T. English, a pastor in Colorado, said at that time: “With all the hype around how different the church is going to be post-COVID, I'm not buying. We don't need fresh takes; we need to remember something ancient. The church is a creature of the Word sung, prayed, and preached. Always has been, always will be.” While some things change and some adaptations are certainly important, I believe that the Bible teaches and Christian history proves that the most important things stay the same: Jesus is alive and reigning, and He is at work in and through His Church as His Word is preached, read, prayed, taught, sung and taken into our daily lives and relationships. Consequently, we cultivate the gift of spiritual receptivity by corporately and individually being attentive to God’s Word over and over again, and by praising Him and praying to Him as a response. We do not devote to soaking ourselves in Scripture so that God will love us, but because He already does loves us.
In “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection,” a sermon given by Scottish pastor Thomas Chalmers about 200 years ago, Chalmers rhetorically asks, “The love of the world cannot be expunged by a mere demonstration of the world’s worthlessness. But may it not be supplanted by the love of that which is more worthy than itself?” Two centuries later, we live in a culture where it is a constant danger to have our spiritual receptivity dulled by worldly attractions, but the more worthy love is still Christ, who first loved us and gave Himself for our sins on the cross. As we live into our calling as a church to be a creature of the Word, like He did for the disciples, may God give us the gift of spiritual receptivity so that we would treasure Him more than anything else in this world, the only treasure that will never let us down.