Submitted by Pastor David Wynn, Tarkio Christian Church
Scripture from the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 7, Verses 31-37: Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man. After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
We find Jesus in this reading from Mark at a time when he is meandering around Gentile country, before he arrives back in the region of Galilee. It is an amazing journey, a trip that lasted at least 8 months. One feels that Jesus is trying to touch all his bases, reach out to many who do not know of him, or the hope of the coming Messiah. It may well be that this long journey is the peace before the storm. A long communion between Jesus and his disciples before the final storm.
The citizens of Decapolis brought to him a man who was deaf and had an impediment is his speech. No doubt the two things went together. It was clear that the man’s inability to hear hindered his ability to speak.
Although Jesus is in the midst of a crowd when the deaf, speech-impaired man is brought to him, the healing of this man once again stresses the solitary nature, the one-on-one encounter, between Jesus and a member of the “unclean” population.
By dealing with him in private, Jesus is also showing compassion, tenderness. Without a doubt one of the most important senses in Jesus’ day was the sense of hearing. For Jesus lived in a world of sound.
So important was the sense of sound, that one of the predictions of the coming of the Messiah was that the ears of the deaf would be unstopped. And how many times did Jesus use the words hear and listen? He said: He who has ears to hear let him hear. Jesus was not only concerned that people physically listen to him, but that people hear what he was saying.
Once they are alone Jesus focuses fully on the man’s needs, touching his ears and administering spit, a body fluid that while usually deemed “unclean” was also accepted in Greco-Roman and Jewish practice as having healing powers when administered by a powerful individual.
Jesus, who can heal from a distance without a word, pokes his fingers in ears, smears on spit, and utters “magic” words, in order to meet this man’s need for healing. The physicality in this healing – touching the ears, touching the tongue, seems to be specially adopted for a hearing impaired individual. Jesus lets the man know exactly what he is focused upon in a sort of basic, first century, “sign language.”
And Jesus looked up to heaven to show that it was from God that help was to come, and then he spoke the word, “Ephphatha,” and the man was healed.
The whole story shows us clearly that Jesus did not consider that man merely as another example of his healing abilities. He considered this man, as he did all those he healed, as individuals who had special needs and special problems. With overwhelming tenderness Jesus healed him in a way that focused on the man’s unfounded feelings of shame and helplessness.
Let us not forget that although the loss of our hearing would be a tragic event, it would be just as tragic having perfect hearing and refusing to listen to those who seek to help us and love us. What we read this morning is the story of a person who couldn’t hear. But let us secondly consider the life of a person who will not hear. I cannot think of a spiritual disease that has led to more disaster as the one caused by not listening to people, failing to hear what they are really saying. Turning a deaf ear has led to more divorces, more family break-ups, more run-away-children, more mental illness, and more total despondency than any other behavior. One of Jesus’ familiar refrains was, “He who has ears, hear…”
Jesus, who was able to teach and lead people to the truth better than anyone who has ever graced this planet, agonized over people’s unwillingness to hear.
Now consider the man who suddenly is able to hear, to listen: A world that had always existed suddenly became real to this man. All of his life he had seen people talking and all that he could do was sort of mimic them. Now, for the first time, he heard the sounds of conversation. All of his life he had seen the children playing. Now, for the first time, he heard the children’s laughter and cries of joy. A world that had always existed suddenly became real to him. How life changes when you hear!
A story is told of a family that went into a restaurant. The waitress walked up and, looking at the young boy, said: “What will be it?” The boy eagerly shouted back: “I’ll take a hamburger, French fries, and a chocolate shake.” The mother immediately interrupted: “Oh, that’s not what he wants. He’ll take the roast beef, a baked potato, and a glass of milk.”
Much to the surprise of both the mother and the boy, the waitress completely ignored her and again asked the boy: “And what do you want on that hamburger?” The boy shouted back: “Ketchup, lots of ketchup.” “And what kind of shake?” “Make it chocolate.” The boy then turned to his parents with a big smile on his face and said: “Say, ain’t she something? She thinks that I’m real.”
We have to start listening to one another. Husbands and wives need to start listening.
Parents and children have to start hearing. Church members have to start hearing each other. It’s not always easy, but when we stop trying, well, we stop being a family.
Jesus placed his hands on this man’s ears and spoke: “Ephathatha – be opened.” And today we need to allow the Holy Spirit to place his hands on our ears and speak the words “be opened.” Then and only then will we be able to hear and speak. Then we too can shout with affirmation, as did the crowd that day: “This man Jesus does all things well. He even makes the deaf to hear.”