Grace and peace in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The story of this healing is peculiar to the Gospel of Mark. In the common timeline of the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, this miracle occurred after Jesus cast out a demon from the daughter of a Syrophoenician woman and before feeding four thousand people. Decapolis, the Ten Cities, was a pagan territory to the east and south of the Sea of Galilee. In this region, not long before, Jesus had healed a demoniac. Now they brought him to a man who was deaf and had a severe speech impediment. It is possible that he could have emitted sounds and even indicated his wishes to people who were observing him closely, but his tongue was unable to form the words.
The healing of another person in a region outside the territory of the Jews gives us more evidence of God's love for all nations and for all kinds of people. This is another example of why we must avoid the temptation to limit the scope of the mission and miss opportunities to reach those who are different from us. Of course, the healing of the deaf and blind was a sign of the coming of the Messiah and the kingdom of God, as we read in our psalm (Psalm 146: 1-10) and the Old Testament reading (Isaiah 29: 17- 24).
Our Lord did not want to reveal his identity as Messiah before the appointed time for his death and resurrection, so he commanded them not to tell anyone. He did not want people to trust in miracles, that is, manifestations of divine power and glory, but in his suffering and humiliation until death that won the promise of eternal life for us.
Six actions of Jesus are described, before pronouncing the words of healing.
1. Jesus separated the man from the crowd by himself.
2. He put his fingers in the ears of the afflicted.
3. Jesus spat.
4. Jesus touched the man's tongue.
5. Jesus looked up to heaven.
6. He sighed.
Let's not clearly understand why Jesus did these actions. Why didn't Jesus heal that man with just one word? We are not told where Jesus spat. Some think that he spat on the man's tongue. Most think that Jesus spat on his own finger and then transferred it to the man's tongue. However, Jesus communicated with the stutterer in a way that he could be aware of. Why did Jesus sigh? Perhaps the sigh indicated the intensity of his plea to almighty God the Father.
Finally follows the opening of the ears and the release of the tongue. Ephphatha is an Aramaic imperative, which Mark translates for his readers: Open yourself. Perhaps the man heard Jesus say this word. The word Aramaic was later used in church baptismal liturgies to emphasize the power of the Holy Spirit to open the ears to the gospel.
Here is a hint. This story is not a parable, it actually happened. However, in a sense, that man is a symbol for us of the sacraments, or means of grace. Our Lord sent the proclamation of his Word to all nations. In Mark 16:15, he told the apostles, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature." But, also in Matthew 28:19, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."
The preaching of the Word is the proclamation of the gospel to all who have ears to hear, because in preaching, the Holy Spirit touches hearts to repent and return to God. Therefore, it is valid for broadcasting the preaching on television, radio or the Internet. But it is not valid to receive the sacraments by distance, because our Lord ordained the sacraments with visible elements linked to the Word for each one to receive the gift of new life personally, in the real presence of God and other believers.
Our Lord did not institute a sacrament of healing with that man, but we have the pattern of the sacraments in this story. By nature, each of us is similar to a deaf and stuttering man. We cannot understand the Word of God but the Holy Spirit illuminates our minds and hearts and we cannot praise God with our lips and tongues. Because the Lord's purpose was not just to open the ears and loosen the tongue, but to allow that man to confess Christ as Lord and Savior and give thanks to God.
The stuttering man's family or friends brought him to Jesus, just as parents bring a child to baptism. They act as instruments of God and also the servant called and ordained by the church and by Christ. As Saint Paul says in the epistle (2 Corinthians 3: 4-11) God takes care of the work that he has entrusted to weak human hands, he truly gives the capacity, the necessary qualifications, to those who are ministers, who serve in the work of the gospel. He enables them to be ministers of the new covenant, to dedicate their time and energy to its propagation, to the distribution of the gifts of grace of the New Testament.
In this, we have the peace that passes all understanding. Amen.
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