While Jesus performs many of his miracles with a simple word or touch, in today’s gospel, Jesus heals the man with a speech impediment in a most graphic and dramatic way. Sensitive to the man’s condition, Jesus pulls him away from the crowd in order to spare him from embarrassment and humiliation. Then he puts his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touches his tongue. The gesture poignantly shows how Jesus identifies physically with the man’s infirmity to awaken faith in him. Looking up to heaven, he groans and utters the word, “Ephphatha,” which finally opens the man’s ears and loosens his tongue.
Pope Benedict XVI gives an insightful comment that the word, “ephphatha – be opened”, sums up Christ’s whole message and all his work. The context of the event confirms the idea. Note that the miracle takes place in Decapolis, a gentile territory, hence not on Jewish ground. The original Aramaic word, “ephphatha,” is preserved to keep the memory vivid and alive for us across the centuries. The deaf-mute, therefore, whom Jesus heals, represents all of us, humankind itself, whose ears God wants to open and hear his saving word and whose tongue he wants to loosen and enable to proclaim his saving act.
This is the mission of Jesus. Because of original sin, man is cut off from God, and in his isolation closes his heart to him. “It is this that Jesus came to ‘open’, to liberate, so as to enable us to live to the full our relationship with God and with others. This is why I said that this small word, ‘ephphatha – be opened’, sums up in itself Christ’s entire mission. He was made man so that man, rendered inwardly deaf and mute by sin, might be able to hear God’s voice, the voice of Love that speaks to his heart, and thus in his turn learn to speak the language of love, to communicate with God and with others.” (Benedict XVI)
We need healing from our own deafness to God’s voice of truth. Alas, God’s word is often drowned by countless competing voices, modulated by today’s secularist culture: voices of materialism, hedonism, moral relativism… Truth has never been so battered and assaulted as in our days. In this unfortunate time of the pandemic, fake news and conspiracy theories abound, making people confused and cynical whom to believe, and causing much misery and unnecessary loss of lives. In the political scene, people’s minds are held hostage by outrageous lies and deception, and their hearts trounced by the tyranny of trolls.
Indeed, like the deaf-mute, we too need to be pulled away from the crowd so that the voice of God becomes audible once more. We need the finger of Jesus to touch our ears so that they are made open to the new world of truth which alone can give true freedom.
I love the way one author describes Jesus’ act of putting his finger into the deaf man’s ears as “plugging” himself into the man. The image that immediately comes to my mind is that of an electric cord. More than just being healed of our disability, Jesus wants us to be united (plugged) to him so that his life and power may flow in us. “Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.” (Jn 15:4)
In the end, every healing does not only to restore us to wholeness, but also empowers us to take on Christ’s mission. Jesus opens our ears to hear God’s truth and he loosens our tongue to proclaim God’s love. The touch of Christ can truly transform us from a frail handicapped to a dynamic builder in his kingdom.
There is a lovely song entitled, “The Touch of the Master’s Hand,” about an old and battered violin that was put on auction. The highest bid it could raise was $3 until an old man picked it up and started to play a melody sweeter than an angel’s song. When the auction was resumed, the bidding rose to $3,000. The song ends with the auctioneer’s words:
You know there’s many a man with his life out of tune,
Battered and scarred with sin, and he’s auctioned cheap
To a thankless world, much like that old violin.
Oh, but then the Master comes,
And that old foolish crowd they never understand
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought Just by one touch of the Master’s hand.*