Sunday, September 5, 2021

A Deaf Man


Again he left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis. And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!” - that is, “Be opened!” And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly. He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it. They were exceedingly astonished and they said, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and [the] mute speak.” 

“Whose fault was it? Whose sin was it, his or his parents?” The eerie possibility was that, without even realizing it, he himself maybe even while still in his mama’s womb, had done something really horrible. Sickness, deafness, blindness were, after all, the direct consequence of sin; everybody knew that all decent Jews in Jesus’ day believed it. Sin leaves its mark; sin causes sickness. It had to be someone’s fault. Case closed. Dead-end. But Jesus comes to this dead-end and says, “No! I won’t have it. God won’t have it.” God in Christ reverses and restores, breaking through dead-ends with hope and the promise of a new way through. This is what Jesus wants, this constant in-breaking of compassion. 

And so undoubtedly roused by the faith of the good people who bring this deaf and speech-impaired man to him, Jesus’ heart overflows with compassion. Quietly he takes the man off, away from the crowd. And breaking boundaries of good taste, discretion, and formality; well beyond the parameters of good hygiene and, what we might call today, proper ministerial protocol, Jesus boldly sticks his finger into the deaf man’s ears and then touches the man’s tongue with his own spittle. Jesus groans from the very depths of his heart his desire for the man’s freedom and healing. And he shouts out in Aramaic: “Ephpha’tha! Be opened! Open to me, my beloved. Let me hear your voice.” Healing occurs. Jesus’ vibrant touch; his warm saliva are sacraments of God’s healing. God’s own spittle restores fluency to a tongue once thick and speechless; God’s finger pokes its way into ears now deaf no longer. Jesus’ groaning to heaven expresses God’s impatience and frustration with all illness, all the unfreedom and isolation, and pain we know and experience.

Now physicians, parents of little ones, and even lovers or spouses would perhaps dare to touch so familiarly, so sensually; discarding all boundaries, putting their finger in ears and mouth. And so fittingly enough Jesus, who is for us Mother and Father and Bridegroom and kind Doctor, reaches out to this once deaf and babbling man, marking the radical in-breaking of God’s regenerative intimacy with us. Jesus breaks boundaries because God’s love is in fact boundless, we could even say, intrusive. Grace intrudes, overwhelms; amazing grace, complete gift, mercy in abundance expressed in the infinitely tender touch of Jesus. Jesus is God’s word in opposition to all sickness and evil and pain. Right down to his very fingertips,

Jesus enfleshes those words of the prophet Isaiah: "Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God; he comes with vindication; with divine recompense, he comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped…then the tongue of the mute will sing." These words are fulfilled in him. The Kingdom is now here among us in Christ Jesus our Lord. It’s happening. This is what Jesus so desires - this constant eruption of the Kingdom.

Clearly in all the accounts of his healings, what Jesus is doing best of all is returning those afflicted in any way back to the ordinary. Jesus’ healing restores them to family, kinsfolk, and friends. They are no longer isolated by their maladies.