Owl-Eyed and Fish-Gilled
"Don't go getting all owl-eyed and fish-gilled on me." That's what a woman said to me as I was standing there like this --- with eyes popped open and jaw dropped -- over something she had just told me. Owl-eyed and fish-gilled is one of those colorful sayings that sums up much in few words and a vivid picture. It's an accurate expression of how we look when we're astonished, amazed, or overwhelmed.
Consider the things people get owl-eyed and fish-gilled over. How about Michael Jackson death? Didn't that leave many owl-eyed and fish-gilled? O the tragedy! O the sadness! O the waste! He was talented, so down to earth with the common folk! How could this have happened to him? How could his life have come to such a terrible end? How could someone who had so much be taken at such a young age!
The death of Michael Jackson certainly left some with eyes popped opened and chin dropped, but in truth, the super famous in general leave most of us all agape. Programs like "TMZ" and magazines like People, The National Enquirer, and Vanity Fair depend on us getting owl-eyed and fish-gilled over the super famous. We're supposed to be impressed by how much money they spend, astonished at how much money they waste, aghast at how they live.
But it's not only the super famous that get people owl-eyed and fish-gilled over; people do it with the super talented too. For example, I still can't believe an injured Kirk Gibson hit a game winning home run in the bottom of the 9th with two out in the 1988 World Series. Many got all owl-eyed and fish-gilled when Tom Dempsey kicked his 63 yard field goal for the Saints. Other people's eyes pop and mouths open over stunning displays of gymnastics, skating, or even golfing.
Don't you think it's time we asked what for? Why do we become all owl-eyed and fish-gilled over the super famous or super talented? Why to we follow their every move? Why do we have such a lust to see them in any and every situation that we've created a multitude of sleazy photographers who will stop at nothing to give us a picture to ogle ? Do you think this sort of fascination is harmless, meaningless, just something modern people do?
Scripture does not focus on the super famous or talented. Scripture instead focuses on the One who was infinitely famous but for our sake humbled Himself and became a carpenter in Nazareth. Scripture focuses on Jesus who came from the mansions of eternity to take up residence in the cramped womb of a virgin. Scripture focuses on the One person who really did have it all but gave it up for us men and our salvation.
Scripture doesn't focus on those who apparently have no problems, no pains, no sicknesses, no failures. Scripture focuses on a "Man of griefs," a "Man of sorrows." Scripture focuses on the Man who carried your griefs and bore your sorrows. He was like you in all ways knowing your sicknesses, your sorrows, and your griefs because He had them all. But this Jesus, loaded down with all you deserve, didn't sigh for Himself, but as in the text; He deeply sighed for you instead.
If you want to get owl-eyed and fish-gilled over someone, let it be this Jesus, the One who was super famous but became super infamous for your sake. There's nothing amazing in the super famous; they've been around since Nimrod, Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar. They're a dime a dozen. But there's only one God who became a Man in order to redeem mankind.
The super famous don't die for you. They don't bear your grief, sorrows, or sins. They don't heal all your diseases or forgive all your sins. They aren't your savior. The super famous are sinful people in desperate need of a Savior. Read all you want about them; follow their lives; study what they buy, what they wear, and how they live, and you've gained nothing at all. But much is to be gained from following the life of Jesus in Bible study, from seeing how He defeated sin, death and the power of the devil in your place.
And what about the feats of the super athletic? It's hard not to be owl-eyed and fish-gilled over what some people do athletically. But these things are nothing compared to the works of God. The problem is that we take God's works for granted. We think the moon is supposed to hang in the sky and not come crashing to the ground. We think the sky must be bright blue and the trees lush green. We think the corn has to come up; the chicken must lay eggs and the cow must give milk. But the Bible tells us that all these things are upheld by God's powerful Word. Scripture tells us God alone feeds the raven and cares for the young lions. God alone watches over the sparrows and clothes the flowers of the field in more splendor than even Solomon.
But we Christians have more than just God's miracles of Creation before our eyes; we also have His miracles of redemption which are every bit amazing as Jesus speaking to a deaf man a word that he can't hear, "Ephphatha!"- "Be opened!" and suddenly he hears. This morning I said to you poor miserable sinners who deserve punishment now and in eternity, "I forgive you." And what happened? You were forgiven. Jesus gave me those words to speak in His stead and He stands behind them. Whoever's sins I forgive; they are forgiven. Your sins are gone. Just that quick. Sins you didn't know what you were going to do with; sins you thought you were doomed to carry to your grave; sins that were your constant companion are now gone, erased, put away. That's a miracle!
But there's more. We put a little water on a person's head in the Name of the Triune God and instantly they are reborn; they are a new creation, ushered into heaven with angels singing and trumpets blowing. That's a miracle!
But something even bigger than this we are privileged to see every Sunday. Each Sunday ordinary bread and wine are used by our Lord Jesus to come to us in Flesh and Blood. You think Lebron James can do amazing things with a basketball and Tiger Woods can do amazing things with a golf ball? Well your Jesus does the unbelievable. He gives you His Body for Bread and His Blood for Wine. Jesus comes to earth once more in Flesh and Blood to personally give you life and salvation. That's a miracle!
Don't you think it is time that we re-examined what we get owl-eyed and fish-gilled over? Why do our eyes pop and our chins drop over earthly things but not over heavenly things? Why will we talk to anyone about the super famous and virtually to no one about our Savior? Why are sporting feats worthy of telling everyone about while the feats of Jesus are not? I'll tell you why. Because we're so used to seeing Jesus do miracles we take them for granted. Miracles of creation happen everyday; miracles of redemption happen every Sunday. What's to get owl-eyed and fish-gilled over?
You know the people in our text could have felt the same way. They too were used to Jesus' miracles. In this same area, Jesus had previously healed 2 demon possessed men leaving 1 to tell the whole area what He had done. And here He had miraculously fed over 5,000. They were use to Jesus doing miracles; that's why they brought the man to Him for healing. But still they were struck by the miracle that Jesus performed this time. They said, "He has done everything well." "Well" doesn't adequately capture the meaning of this Greek word. It means "beautiful," "appropriate," "just right for the situation." Even though they had seen other miracles, they were still touched, still owl-eyed and fish-gilled over this rather ordinary one. I mean this wasn't the raising of the dead, the healing of the blind, or the restoring of a rotten or decayed limb. This didn't look that spectacular.
They were touched by how appropriate, how caring, how empathetic Jesus was in healing this man. He handled the situation just right. O that we would have this view of the workings of our God! O that we could see that when He deals with us through the preached Word or the dispensed Sacraments, He deals with each of us in just the right way. And would that we could see that when He deals with us in everyday life through creation He doesn't deal with us as some faceless, nameless, clones. He tenderly gives to each of us what we need that day. Some of us may need the rod across our back; others may need the staff to gently move us this way or that. Still others may need smooth sailing, fair weather, a good day. It's not like many of you believe. God doesn't just plop down another day for each of us to wrestle with the best way we know how. No, the One who takes time to feed the sparrows and dress the hayfields decides each day what to send each of His children.
This, the everyday ways God deals with us in creation or in salvation, this really is worthy of owl eyes, fish gills, and speaking of. But what do we find? The people in our text were commanded not to speak about what Jesus did but kept on speaking anyway. We've been commanded to speak but tend to keep silent. We can say, "I saw a baby reborn to everlasting life by Jesus in Baptism!" We can say, "Jesus personally forgave my sins today!" We can say, "I saw God today," and unlike George Strait mean it literally. We can get owl-eyed and fish-gilled at the moon in the sky, the ordinary bread on our table, or the forgiveness of our sins because we see them for the astounding miracles they are!
But here's how it is; it's permissible and even expected to be owl-eyed and fish-gilled at Michael Jackson's death, the life of the super famous, or the feats of the super athlete. It is neither expected nor permitted to do so over the things of God in creation or redemption. So it's difficult, it's challenging to go around hooting like an owl and flipping like a fish over what God has done for us in Jesus. But may we see it with owl-like clarity and gobble it down with fish-like hunger. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (20090920); Mark 7:31-37