Returning from the district of Tyre, he went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, right through the Decapolis region. And they brought him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they asked him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, put his fingers into the man’s ears and touched his tongue with spittle. Then looking up to heaven he sighed; and he 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. And Jesus ordered them to tell no one about it, but the more he insisted, the more widely they published it. Their admiration was unbounded. ‘He has done all things well,’ they said ‘he makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.’
In this episode, Jesus continues to minister in Gentile territory. On a literal level, the story relates Jesus extending his merciful power to healing one outside the sheepfold of Israel. Jesus took the man aside and touched his ears and tongue to dispose him to faith. By groaning, Jesus expressed his sympathy for his afflicted patient and hence to all those who endure bodily affliction. It is an action that fulfils the words spoken by the Prophet Isaiah (Is. 35:4-6): “he even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.”
Allegorically, the deaf and dumb man represents the Gentile nations who have yet to hear the word of God. Once the impediment (ignorance) is removed they will “speak plainly,” that is, adhere to and proclaim the Gospel throughout the world. According to St. Bede (Commentary on Mark), all those who neither hear nor speak the words of God must be presented to the Lord for healing.
It is the command “Ephphatha” i.e “be opened” that brings healing to the man. It was not the opening of man’s ears that Jesus called for, it was the opening of the man’s heart so that he might receive his healing power. We too receive the call “Ephphatha” from Jesus. Christ invites us to open ourselves to the love of God as he knows that this will always heal and transform us.
In this episode Christ’s use of spittle speaks of the essential goodness of all of creation. Christ could have healed the deaf and dumb man through the power of his own word, yet he chose to use a material instrument as part of the miracle. Christ is the Lord of creation and all creation is inherently good, even spittle, and can be employed as a means to bestow grace and blessings. It is an episode that points to the sacraments of the New Law instituted by Christ whereby we encounter him and receive his grace through humble material instruments such as water, oil, bread and wine.
Christ calls to us “Ephphatha” .. “be opened.”
Let us pray,
Open our ears to hear you.
Open our eyes to see you.
Open our hearts to receive you.
Open our minds to know you.