Jesus Cures the Deaf-Mute, Breenburgh, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.
Jesus said, “Ephphatha!”— that is, “Be opened!” — And immediately the man’s ears were opened,
his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly. Mark 7:34-35.
Words highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.
This section of Mark’s gospel has Jesus traveling through Gentile country (the previous episode here was the famous confrontation with the Syro-Phoenician woman who stated even the Gentiles could claim the same right as the family dogs, and pick up the crumbs falling from the table of the children of God, the Jews). He encountered a man who was deaf and who could not speak clearly. The local people had brought him to Jesus, which appears to be a sign of their confidence in this holy man, or perhaps a test to prove if he was genuine or not. If you have ever met someone afflicted with this disability, you know how challenging it is to understand what they are saying. They are trying to speak as clearly as those with perfect hearing, but as they are unable to hear anything, they have to hope that what they say is close to what they intend. Often it is not, leading to confusion and perhaps irritation. Deafness is a terrible affliction, worse than blindness in my opinion, as it is a huge obstacle in communicating with the world. It is even thought to be a pathway to dementia with those who are trapped in deafness, and who are are unwilling or unable to meet the challenge.
This man, clearly, had made the attempt to confront his disability by speaking as best he could. Then there is the extraordinary way Jesus dealt with him. Jesus placed his fingers into the man’s ears, and touched his tongue with his own saliva. These actions can be considered “sacramental” in that they actually bring about what they symbolize, with the man’s ears being opened, and his tongue loosened (just as the words of consecration at Mass not only symbolize the bread becoming the body of Christ, but also actually change the bread into his body). Note the absence here of any mention of the devil, or even of faith, which accords with the situation, Jesus dealing with pagans in a pagan land. Jesus spoke no words here, just sighed, perhaps a recognition of the extreme disability of this man, and looked to his Father in heaven, the source of his power. Then there is the word, “Ephphatha!”. It is an Aramaic word, the language that Jesus spoke, and is generally translated as “Be opened!” Instantly the man was cured and he spoke plainly, perhaps for the first time in his life. The crowd’s positive reaction to the miracle is the strongest reaction to any of Jesus’ actions as recorded in Mark’s gospel. They proclaimed the event everywhere they could. Here, it would seem, was the dawning reality of the presence of the Messiah, as prophesied by Isaiah in today’s first reading, “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf be cleared” (Isaiah 35:5-6). But must have been somewhat muted, as this was Gentile territory.
One final thought, from today’s second reading. Jesus dealt with the downtrodden, the rejected, the disabled, the lowest, as it were, of society. Today’s disabled man, deaf and scarcely able to speak, was almost certainly not among the elite of their society. But they clearly knew him, and thought positively enough of him to bring him to the Jewish holy man in the hope something could be done for him. That says a great deal about them, and is a lesson to us, emphasized in the second reading, “to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him”. We are to follow in their footsteps, sharing our good fortune with those who are not so fortunate. It could be said that is why we have such good fortune, isn’t it?
Hillbilly Heroin, Honey, Magnum Photography Award, 2016.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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