And again He went out from the region of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis. And they brought to Him one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty, and they entreated Him to lay His hand upon him. And He took him aside from the multitude by himself, and put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting, He touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven with a deep sigh, He said to him, "Ephphatha!" that is, "Be opened!" And his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was removed, and he began speaking plainly. And He gave them orders not to tell anyone; but the more He ordered them, the more widely they continued to proclaim it. And they were utterly astonished, saying, "He has done all things well; He makes even the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak."
Can You Hear Me Now?
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
One of the cell phone companies has, for years, used the image of man walking around with his phone to his ear, saying, "Can you hear me now?". It is a clever ad because it suggests something that the phone company would be foolish to say out loud, that their service is absolutely unfailing in any place and under any circumstances. Contrasted to that image, our Gospel this morning shows us Jesus giving a deaf man the ability to hear and to speak. Our theme, this morning, is, Can You Hear Me Now?
This account of the healing of the deaf man has always intrigued me. There seems to be both more and less going on here than we assume upon first hearing the story. Here is a man who is deaf. Was he deaf from birth, or did it start later? We do not know because the Bible doesn't say. The text tells us that the man spoke with difficulty. Was the difficulty due to a separate physical impediment, or due to his deafness? Again, we don't have enough information. I have known a number of deaf people who spoke, but they always seem to have trouble managing their volume and their pronunciation. Even if they once could hear and lost the ability later in life, they seem to develop a problem with speech, so it could be that the impediment to the man's speech was his deafness.
On the other hand, if the man could not hear at any point in his life, he would not know how the words were supposed to sound, or be pronounced. Simply giving him his hearing would not make him instantly able to speak clearly. He would need time to learn, and connect the sounds of speech to the words he intended. So, when Jesus gave him his hearing, that would only go part way to making him able to speak clearly. Clearly Jesus did more than simply give him his hearing back. He also cleared up the man's problems with speech.
They brought this man to Jesus. Who the man was is not explained. Why those who brought him expected Jesus to be able to fix things is not clear. A lot of interpreters have had difficulty with just what Jesus did. He took the man aside, although where "aside" was is not really explained. If you are out in the open country, taking the man aside from the crowd could be as little as putting His own body between the crowd and the man, or perhaps there was a building there. We are left to wonder.
Then Jesus puts His fingers into the man's ears and spits. Some preachers go on and on about the healing touch, and some interpreters have Jesus spitting and then touching the man's tongue with the spittle. I wasn't there, so I can only speculate, but this is what I think was happening: Jesus was dealing with a deaf man, so He was basically doing signs for the guy. Jesus usually healed with a word, and He spoke in this healing as well, so I think what Jesus was doing was communicating to the deaf man what He was about to do. He put His fingers into the man's ears to communicate that He was going to fix his hearing, and He touched the man's tongue to tell him that He was going to fix his speech. I think the spitting was to communicate to the man that the impediment of his tongue was going to be spit out, as it were - not to touch the man's tongue with His spit. That idea seems kind of gross to me - not impossible, just unlikely.
Then Jesus spoke the Word - "Ephphatha!" that is, "Be opened!" He spoke in Aramaic, the language of the home. That suggests that the man may have heard some at one time, and Jesus was speaking language the man would have heard as a child. The power of Jesus' words do not depend on our understanding, but Jesus always seems to want to be understood when He speaks and when He heals. Scripture reports that Jesus spoke in Aramaic when He raised the daughter of Jairus, too, so I suspect Jesus wanted the first words heard by this man to be clearly understood by him. And with that word, the man was healed. He could hear, and he could suddenly speak clearly.
The miracle gave the people of Jesus' time another evidence that Jesus was the Messiah. He fulfilled the prophecies that spoke of the day to come in which the deaf would hear, such as Isaiah 29:18, And on that day the deaf shall hear words of a book, And out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. Or Isaiah 35:5, Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, And the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. When the people marveled at Jesus and said that He does all things well, they were connecting Him, in their minds, to such prophecies. Making the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak were the sorts of things that everyone knew only God could do - or someone through whom God was working. Only God does all things well, remember? In creation, each day God looked and it was good, and at the end, behold it was very good! Their analysis of what Jesus did was a confession, of sorts.
I have always found it interesting that the more Jesus tried to keep the people from talking about what He had done, the more they talked about it. That could be an illustration of human sinfulness - always needing to do what they have been commanded not to do. I don't think that is the purpose of reporting that here. I think it was simply that the people could not keep it quiet. They had witnessed something wonderful and miraculous, and they just had to tell others about it. As a preacher, I am tempted to say something about how we don't do the same - but I suspect that if they saw Jesus healing deaf people every day for years, they would not be so motivated to talk about it either. It would become every day and ordinary. But at that moment, it was not. It was new. And it was miraculous!
Jesus may not have wanted them talking about it so much because He was not here for the purpose of healing physical ailments. This kind of attention would bring people to Him for healing, but not necessarily for knowledge or understanding, or for forgiveness. While He walked among us, Jesus did a lot of healings, but that was not why He was here, and His miracles generally were performed for the purpose of identification, not just because someone needed healing. Jesus fulfilled prophecy with His miracles. He identified Himself as the Promised One of Scriptures. He was making sure that people understood who He was and clearly saw that He was doing what the Bible said He would do, so that when He died on the cross in our place and for our sins, it would make sense. They would look at those prophecies too and understand.
Jesus was dealing with the symptoms of sin and the results of sin among men. Sin causes illness, deafness, and all sorts of troubles, all the way to death, because that is where sin takes us. The soul that sins shall die! The wages of sin is death. In these healing miracles, we Jesus confronting the symptoms of sin and healing them. Just as He is master over the symptoms, He is also master over the cause. On the cross, Jesus cured the problem of sin by taking it onto Himself and paying the penalty. Now our sins are forgiven, and our death is changed into a temporary thing. We shall rise from death just as that deaf man's ears were opened and the impediment of his tongue was loosened. Jesus has done both.
He continues to open the ears of sinful men, and causes them to hear of His great love. We hear with more than just our ears, but our hearts are also opened and we are taught to believe by the power of the Word. And just as the deaf man could also speak by same healing Word, we are forgiven our sins and given everlasting life with Jesus in the same miracle that opened our ears to hear and believe the grace of God.
We are also taught to speak, for, as St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:3, No man can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit. We are given the power to confess Christ by same Word which He uses to convert us. It is not given to us by the decision of the human heart or mind, but by the Word of God, through which the Holy Spirit opens our ears to faith and mouths to confess. It is the work of God in us just as completely as the healing of that deaf man on the shores of the Sea of Galilee in the region of the Decapolis.
Our conversion, and our subsequent ability to honestly confess Christ echo the healing of the deaf man in our Gospel today. The truth is, however, that the lesson merely wants to show you Christ. Jesus was demonstrating who He is by doing things only God can do, by fulfilling prophecy, and by dealing with the symptoms of sin in a powerful and decisive way. There is no statement of faith saving anyone made in this lesson. Jesus is simply demonstrating His power, and doing it in a way that also shows us His compassion and His humility. This miracle shows us that Jesus is truly God, and should give us comfort. Our Savior has the power, and has the compassion to meet our needs, whatever they may be.
This is He who died for you. Can you hear me now?
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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