After a fairly serious confrontation with the Pharisees (Matthew 15:1-20), Jesus “withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon” (Matthew 15:21), where he met an interesting woman (See Nameless: A Woman in Tyre). We don’t know how long he stayed there, but sometime later, He took a circuitous route back to the Sea of Galilee, wandering into the Decapolis (a loose collection of ten cities that stretched all the way up to Damascus). People recognized him there, too. What happened next is easy to miss when you’re reading through the Gospels.
Only Mark takes time to tell us about a small group of people (reminds me of 4 Friends on the Roof) who brought a man to Jesus, begging Jesus to heal him. The man couldn’t hear and could hardly talk (Mark 7:32). For years—maybe his whole life—he hadn’t been able to communicate with his family, neighbors, or friends. He couldn’t say the Shema or participate in worship. He was isolated even in the middle of a party.
Every healing interaction of Jesus is different. This time, he guided the man away from the crowd.* I wonder why. Was the man frightened? Was he frustrated because he couldn’t understand what was happening? Was Jesus conscious of the “show” he was giving for the assembled crowd?
Jesus also took time to sort-of explain what was happening. He put His fingers in the man’s ears, perhaps an informal bit of sign language. These moments are one of the things I love in the gospel narratives: quiet interactions between Jesus and someone who needs His help but also needs something else even more—something he doesn’t even know he (or she) needs.
Just stay there for a second. Imagine yourself in a silent world where you can’t communicate with anyone. Imagine the transfer of hope from Jesus’ face to yours. Imagine the confidence in His eyes and the peace that surrounds Him, drawing you.
I think being touched by Jesus would have been calming, and standing there in front of Jesus, with no one else grabbing His attention, would have been encouraging.
The next bit is among the weirdest of Jesus’ healings.
Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. –Mark 7:33
That’s all we get. Best case scenario, or at least my best guess, Jesus spit on his own finger, then touched the man’s tongue with the spit-upon finger. A couple of times, Jesus healed blind men using his spit (Mark 8:23, John 9:6), so this is not completely unprecedented, and spittle was “sometimes used in medicinal, magical, and religious cures” (NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, 1704). Also, they didn’t have the same understanding of germs and disease transference that we enjoy today.
The saliva wasn’t everything, though. While touching the man’s tongue,
He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”). –Mark 7:34
Jesus looked up like he was praying (compare John 11:41), but He spoke to the deaf man. Immediately, the man could hear and speak plainly. Jesus had opened his ears and mouth! Now he could fully participate in society, in worship, in relationships. Now he could express his thoughts and hear the ideas of others. Jesus didn’t just fix his physical body. This healing fixed the man’s isolation and frustration. He opened his ears, but He also opened the man’s life to relationships.
Jesus also “opened up a can of worms” that day. He wanted to keep this whole situation quiet. He had His reasons, which we won’t get into right now, but the “people were overwhelmed with amazement.” They couldn’t quit talking about it and telling their friends, who had to come see what was happening! And among those who “kept talking about it” was one former deaf and mute man (Mark 7:36-37).
It got so bad that a few days later, Jesus had to feed another huge crowd, using seven loaves and a few fish for 4,000 people (Mark 8:1-10).
Why is this story important?
- I plan to write more about the topic later, but when John the Baptist wanted to know if Jesus was for-real, Jesus referenced some verses from Isaiah that prophesy about the blind, deaf, lame, mute, and dead (Matthew 11:5). Matthew tells us Jesus healed all these (Matthew 15:30), but only Mark gives us a specific story about Jesus healing deafness.
- More applicably, Jesus still speaks openness over us. When we get alone with Jesus, face to face, away from the crowd, He opens the ears and eyes of our hearts to hear truth and see His work. And in these days, He will never tell us to keep it quiet.
- He also opens our mouths so we can speak truth and restore relationships (Proverbs 16:23-24). After studying this story, I’m convinced Jesus is just as interested in our relationships and communication skills as we are!
“He has done everything well,” they said. –Mark 7:37
Jesus did all things well…and some things weirdly. Take a look at one of his strangest healings and consider how He might be speaking, “Be opened!” over your life today. My #CommunicationSkills are #NotAboutMe.Tweet
What aspect of your life does Jesus want to open today? Have you experienced this? I have. Suddenly, I see or understand something clearly that was obscured before. Or I can communicate something that always came out wrong in the past. Give God some glory by letting us know how He has blessed you in this way! The comments are open.
*Again in Mark 8:22-26, Jesus led a man away from the crowd before he healed him.