Summary: As spectacular as giving hearing to a deaf man may have been, what that healing signified was by far more wondrous than anything that life on earth has yet to experience.
We read in our passage what is a common experience for us – the record of yet another healing. That was not common for the man Jesus healed. To him it was the most spectacular event of his life. And yet, as spectacular as it may have been, what that healing signified was by far more wondrous than anything that life on earth has yet to experience.
Mark provides us with an interesting route that Jesus traveled. Already north of Galilee, he travels even further north before heading southeast to the Sea of Galilee and then apparently further over and down. It seems that he was avoiding the borders of Israel, presumably to keep away from the crowds. The Decapolis was an area stretching from the eastern border of the Sea of Galilee down south.
As in the territory of Tyre, he is again approached for help, this time for healing. 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man.
If you are like me, by now you are almost tempted to yawn at the scenario. After all, Jesus’ healing is commonplace now. I grew up in the ‘60s with the first launchings of astronauts into space. Each launching was a special occasion for the nation and Walter Cronkite was the unofficial presider over each event. The nation knew everything about each mission before the rocket took off, and we followed with keen interest the whole trip. Who knows the names of the astronauts on the last mission? Who knows when the last mission was? Launching into space is commonplace now. We may have interest in the missions, but little excitement.
Jesus has cured a fever, cleansed a leper, cured a man of paralysis, made a shriveled hand whole, cured a woman of a 12-year hemorrhage, and brought a dead girl back to life. And these are just samples of his healing powers. We know that he cured hundreds of people. So, another healing doesn’t rank high on the scale anymore of great miracles, at least not in comparison to quieting storms, walking on water, and multiplying food. And, oh yes, let’s not forget casting out demons.
What is interesting, then, is the time and attention Mark gives to the story. Read again his description of the healing. 33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.
There are three elements to the miracle description. The first is Jesus taking the man aside; the second is the process by which Jesus heals; and the third is the consequence of the healing. Consider the first element. This is the first time Mark records Jesus taking a person away from a crowd before he heals, although he does have people leave the house before he raises the girl back to life. In that instance he is getting rid of all the commotion being caused by skeptics. In this case, people have brought a man to him for help and Jesus, for some reason, pulls the man away from his friends. Keep that thought in mind as we go on.
What a curious process Jesus goes through to heal the man. Again, reviewing the previous healing miracles, at the most Jesus touches the person he heals. Of the six healing miracles, in only three does he touch the person he heals and they are explainable apart from healing. For two of them, he simply holds their hands to help them out of bed. The third involves touching the leper. Jesus touched him precisely because he was considered an untouchable person. Mark does let us know that he touched others as part of the healing process, but, again, he has made it clear that touching was hardly something Jesus needed to do. Healing simply was not a difficult work for Jesus to do.
But we would not have gotten that impression if this were the only sample of his healing. First, he puts his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spits and touches the man’s tongue.
Yuck! He spat on his own fingers, then put the spit on the man’s tongue. And I thought it was bad enough to have my mom wipe off dirt on my face with spit! Finally, he looks up to heaven, sighs deeply, and says, “Be opened!” This is the same man who tells a mother that she will find her daughter at home with her demon already cast out; the same man who merely tells a dead girl to get up. What was so difficult about healing this man?