“Then looking up to heaven He sighed; and said to him: ‘Ephphatha’, that is ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened, and the ligament of his tongue was loosened and he spoke clearly” (Mark 7: 34-35).
As I read through this Gospel again and again meditating on the messages that the Word of God has for me and you, I remember Anthony, one of our neighbours when we were growing up. He was older and used to come around to our house frequently. I can see him in my mind’s eyes how he used to struggle to talk and play with us but couldn’t. I can perceive the indecipherable sounds he used to make even very freshly in my ears as I sit here. I remember also that Anthony could neither hear us nor speak to us. Anthony was deaf and dumb! I remember how he used to be shunned and made fun of by people around. He was an object of scorn, mockery and derision. I remember very regrettably that my little friends and I used to laugh and make fun of him too. May God forgive us. I remember how Anthony would recoil and withdraw from everyone to sit alone and remain in his “silent world.” And no one cared a hoot. I remember very pitifully that not even his siblings were happy to be identified with him because of these impediments. He was always alone in the crowd, unloved and unwanted. So in sombre reflection, I can in some ways identify with the un-named man in the centre of our story today.
From hindsight, the first challenge here is posed by the people who brought this man to Jesus. Unlike my friends and myself did not care about the condition of Anthony, these people in the story showed much love and concern to have brought to Jesus this man “who was deaf and had impediment in his speech” like Anthony. They didn’t just bring him to Jesus, but “they begged Him to lay His hands upon him” (Mark 7: 32). They demonstrated faith and empathy. What we failed to do for Anthony, even as kids, the ones in the Gospel narrative did. What about now? God calling us to be more caring and loving; to be more attentive that there are many people out there that we should bring to His Son and plead with Him to touch, to forgive, to bless and to heal. There are still many lonely people out there who need our love and presence so that through us they too can experience the love and the power of Christ.
But why did they have to beg Jesus? Why did Jesus hesitate to lay His hands upon him? Remember the Canaanite woman in Matthew Gospel (15: 21-28)? Jesus refused initially to attend to her for the reason: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15: 24). Yes, the message and all its corresponding benefits were intended first for the Jews before the Gentiles. Remember Paul in Acts 13: 46: “It was necessary that the Word of God should be spoken first to you.” Mark is very specific about the location of Jesus in narrating where this miracle took place to enable us to know that it was in a Gentile region. So perhaps Jesus’ reaction was for the same reason as the woman in Matthew 15. But His action aroused faith and determination on the part of those who brought the man. Persistence is a fruit of faith. The Word of God has often reminded us to pray persistently and consistently. This is a reminder to PUSH (Pray Until Something Happens).
The response of Jesus is very compassionate and graphically detailed by Mark. Here was a man who was inflicted with two serious impediments – he was deaf and dumb like Anthony. Jesus shared in his grief, his isolation, his shamefulness, his lonely world of silence. He understood perfectly the burden of the man standing before Him. And so Jesus took him away, put His fingers into his ears, spat, touched his tongue, looked up to heaven, sighed and said “Ephphatha” that is “Be opened.” Notice that Jesus took seven significant steps through this miracle of restoration and wholeness. This was a uniquely dramatic demonstration as Jesus carefully acted out every step as if to speak in “sign language” because He knew who He had in front of Him. He took him away from the multitude, from the noisy lousy crowd to avoid interference and to have a close up one-on-one contact. How much we need this silence today to be able to establish this relationship. We need to withdraw from the crowd, from our busy schedules, from the vociferous interferences sometimes so that we can have this close up reach with The Lord. Jesus made two direct touches on the man by putting His fingers into the man’s ears and by touching the man’s tongue with His saliva. In ancient days, saliva was known to have powerful therapeutic qualities. Then He looked up to heaven, the throne of His Father, the Source of His power, thus expressing reliance on His Father. Here the humility of Jesus, “Who was God, but did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Philippians 2: 6), is clearly obvious. Then He sighed because He was grieved by the condition of the man, as He continues to be grieved by modern man’s conditions of deafness that prevents us from hearing the voice of God and the cries of the poor; and dumbness that keeps us silent in the face of unjust laws and inequalities. Jesus spoke the Word: “Ephphatha” – “Be opened” and immediately “his ears were opened, and the ligament of his tongue was loosened and he spoke clearly” (Mark 7: 35).
The effects of the miracle were instantly manifested to the joyful satisfaction of his friends and unquantifiable puzzlement of the crowd. But think about it, what language did he speak? Here was a man who had never heard or spoken any language before? How was it possible for him to speak clearly? “Clearly” here would mean to the understanding of the others. Would you love to ask the same questions of Adam and Eve? What language did they speak, and how? This miracle reveals the identity of Jesus as the Eternal Word Who was God and with Whom all things were created; the Word Who has taken flesh and dwell among us (John 1: 1-3,14); it reveals His identity as the Messiah. He is the One Who was to come and fulfil the prophecies of old, for example the one prophesied by Isaiah in the First Reading (Isaiah 35: 4-7) – unsealing the ears of the deaf and loosening the tongues of the dumb so they can sing for joy. However, since His time had not yet come to be so known and identified, Jesus warned them not to speak about His works and miracles – “Messianic Secret.” Nevertheless, such order was difficult to obey in such amazing circumstance. Therefore, the people overtly acknowledged His power: “He has done all things well, He makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak” and spoke about it widely and publicly.
This miracle of Jesus, like all other miracles, was not intended to be a “show” to attract attention or followers. They were all tied to His mission of establishing God’s Kingdom for the liberation and salvation of mankind. The “un-named man” in our story is a metaphor for those lonely, scorned and ridiculed men and women who are physically challenged in different ways; those beggars we pass by without a look. The “un-named man” represents us too in our deafness and dumbness to the cries of the poor and the needy. The “un-named man” is the world we live in today that is ravaged by devilish deafness and dumbness that churns out divisions, conflicts wars, structural injustice and institutionalised crimes. Today we are called to present ourselves to Jesus and to bring forth others and to offer our fractured world to Him so that He may open our ears and loosen the ligaments of our tongues, and most especially our hearts that we all can listen, hear, live out and speak His Word so that there will be a healing for us all.