We are talking about a unique miracle of Jesus – the healing of a deaf and a mute man (Mark 7:31-37). Among the four gospel writers, only Mark tells this story. So, without Mark, you would not know about Jesus’ encounter with a deaf and mute man. Of course, Mark has a reason to record the incident.
Let’s talk about the miracle
Jesus returned to Decapolis, a Gentile territory, and people brought before him a deaf man with a speech impediment. They requested Jesus to lay his hands on him. Jesus does some weird actions. He takes the man away from the crowd, puts his fingers in the man’s ears, and touches his tongue with spittle. Then Jesus looks up to heaven and says, Ephphatha and it’s done. Miracle! And people are filled with admiration.
Imagine the world of the deaf man – to hear nothing – no sound of the wind, music, or what others are saying. It’s a silent world. The man in the miracle story is not only deaf, but he has a speech impediment too hence the man also could not communicate properly.
Jesus performs the miracle among the Gentiles
And why is this important? Mark depicts Jesus facing increasing opposition from the Pharisees and Herod Antipas. That’s one reason why Jesus leaves the Jewish territory and enters the Gentile territory. There is another reason why Jesus is in Gentile territory. Jesus intentionally includes the non-Jewish world in his ministry.
Jesus in Decapolis. Pay attention to the name of a place.
Jesus had been in Decapolis in Mark chapter 5 healing a demon-possessed man of the tombs. Jesus cast out the demons and allowed them to enter a herd of pigs (Mark 5:13). The interesting reaction of the people was to beg Jesus to leave their land. It appears that they cared more for the pigs than for the man who was healed. But the man freed from the demons requested to come along with Jesus. Jesus tells him to go home to his friends and tell them how much the Lord has done to him and had mercy on him (Mark 5:19).
Why am I telling you this? This man became the first Gentile Missionary. The work of this man was fruitful. And the people welcomed Jesus warmly during his second visit to Decapolis. They were the same people who requested Jesus to leave in the earlier incident in Mark 5.
Gentiles demonstrate compassion towards the deaf man
Decapolis means ten cities with a majority non-Jewish audience. Jesus’ ministry is being amplified. The Gentiles demonstrated compassion towards the deaf man and faith in Jesus.
The Gentiles did what the deaf man could not do for himself. It would be impossible that the deaf man could have heard about Jesus – and all the healing miracles. Even if he somehow learned about the miracle man, he couldn’t talk. The man in the miracle was dependent on others for help. There is no mention that the man had faith. He must have not even known why people brought him to Jesus in the first place.
You notice people bringing the deaf man to Jesus and begging Jesus to lay his hand on the deaf man. It was an act of kindness towards the deaf man. They wanted to help him, but they had limitations – they cannot restore the man’s hearing, and they cannot loosen his tongue to enable him to talk. But the Gentiles believed that Jesus could do it. Perhaps they heard about Jesus from others, like the man whom Jesus freed from demons or their Jewish friends. When we realize our limitations, we turn to God.
The act of healing was a private encounter. It was not a public display. Why did Jesus take the deaf man away from the crowd? They could be alone. Jesus didn’t allow everyone to see it. Imagine, this man grew up being a spectacle- people making fun of him. Jesus refuses to make a spectacle of him now, identifying with the deaf emotionally. Jesus demonstrates that this man is not just a crowd, not a problem – he is a unique individual.
Jesus’ method of healing
Jesus has an unusual method of healing the deaf man. Jesus puts his fingers in the man’s ears. Jesus spits, touches the man’s tongue. Jesus looks up to heaven, and sighs saying Ephphata. Is this some ritual to bring about healing? But we have seen that Jesus does not need any ritual to summon his power. This time it is a different pattern in the miracle.
You know Jesus calmed the storm with a command: Peace. Be still (Mark 4:39). Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter by telling her to get up (Mark 5:41). Jesus heals the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman just by willing it to be so (Mark 7:29-30). There is no ritual – no mambo-jumbo. Jesus does not need a ritual to summon his power.
Why does Jesus perform a ritual before the healing?
The healing is different because of the deaf man’s need. He is deaf, meaning he cannot hear Jesus. Jesus could not speak with the deaf man as he would with others before the healing miracles. Jesus identifies with the man, enters his world of silence. Jesus speaks to the deaf man in a language that he could understand – a kind of sign language. That’s the reason for the ritual.
Jesus placed his fingers in the man’s ears and removed them. Jesus was telling the man that I am going to remove the blockage in his hearing. When Jesus spat and touched the man’s tongue, Jesus was communicating that I am going to remove the blockage in his mouth. When Jesus looked up to heaven, Jesus was telling the man that it is not magic but God’s grace that healed him. When Jesus sighed, it is more like Jesus groaned. The deaf man had suffered the pain in silence – a pain of trying to communicate yet being unable to talk. Jesus’ action identifies with the man’s pain.
The first words Jesus spoke in the miracle
Jesus looked up to heaven to let the deaf man know that God alone was doing this for him. Then Jesus spoke the first words that the man heard: Ephphatha. As Mark will translate, it’s meaning: be opened. Ephphatha is not a magic word. It is an Aramaic word meaning be opened. But it is interesting why Jesus spoke in Aramaic in a Gentile world. Could the deaf man understand what Jesus said? Or is it symbolic? We will talk about it some other time.
What happened after Jesus said Ephphatha?
The miracle happened. The deaf man could hear and talk plainly. The man could hear and could talk. Literally, the text says that Jesus broke the shackles (chain) of his tongue. The first words that came out of the man were to praise and glorify God.
Jesus surprises with a command to remain silent
Jesus commands the people to remain silent about the miracle of healing the deaf man. Even for a man who has come out from a world of silence – no sound – no speech. This command is difficult to follow. It is the opposite of what Jesus said during his first visit to Decapolis. Jesus tells the mam, whose demons Jesus did cast out, to go and tell friends what the Lord had done and how he had mercy on you.
Command to remain silent. How do you understand it?
Jesus told people to keep quiet, strictly forbidding them to tell no one. Now, this is not the only time you heard it. Jesus even told the Jewish audience, not just the Gentiles, to remain silent about the healing miracles. The critical thing Jesus is communicating is who Jesus is and why he has come. Jesus wanted people to understand his purpose on earth.
Jesus wanted to curtail the misinformation of believing in the power of miracles. It is not enough to know that Jesus works miracles, not enough to believe in Jesus’s miracle-working power. Even those close to Jesus sometimes fail to understand this aspect of faith.
Jesus was called the one who has done all things well
What things did Jesus do well? Yes, the words of the prophet Isaiah is being fulfilled, and the messiah is amidst us. Isaiah 35:4-6:
Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with a vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.
Let’s talk of three things Jesus does well
Jesus gives rest for your soul.
Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Jesus saves you from your sins.
Jesus says in Mark 16:15-16: And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
Jesus gives you the peace the world cannot give.
Jesus says in John 14:27: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
Therefore, you are invited to come to Jesus – let Jesus unchain you from the things that block you to be to hear, understand, and praise God.
About the Author
Feroz Fernandes, a Catholic Missionary, identifies himself as an Uncommon Priest. Father Feroz loves adventure in the apostolate. Check out his debut book The Uncommon Priest: Incredible Stories You Never Read on amazon. And also, the YouTube Channel: Feroz Fernandes promotes a better understanding of scripture.