Every so often, we come up with a Scripture passage that needs to be reviewed line by line. This is one such occasion.
We begin with Jesus returning from Tyre and going towards the Sea of Galilee by way of Sidon. This is the equivalent of starting in Portland, heading north to Seattle, and then dropping south to San Francisco. That is a huge jaunt! Scripture scholars estimate it took eight months. Maybe Jesus just needed a whole lot of time with His disciples.
In any case, a deaf man is brought to Jesus, one with a speech impediment. We have to conclude that at some point this man could hear. Otherwise, how would he be able to produce language displaying a speech impediment? If he had never been able to hear, he would only produce garbled sounds. A speech impediment implies some difficulty in understanding him, not a complete inability to speak.
Scripture tells us that “they” are begging Jesus to heal the deaf man. So we have more than one person speaking on behalf of the man. It’s a fair assumption that he is totally puzzled about what’s happening, and so he may have been trying to speak, too. No wonder Jesus takes him aside. Jesus probably can’t hear Himself think. Not to mention that it’s a kind thing to do. Communication is going to be tough enough with someone who is incapable of hearing, and so Jesus is likely fabricating sign language on the spot.
He put His fingers in the man’s ears. We have a Scripture passage from 2nd Isaiah that reads, “The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped.” (Isaiah 35:5-6) Jesus must be interpreting this literally, resting his hands on the man’s face. [demonstrate] Then Jesus spits in His hands, moistens His fingers with His saliva, and touches the man’s tongue. Now the man knows for sure what’s happening; this is standard procedure in those days for healing deafness and speech impediments. The man’s focus on Jesus is intense, pleading, and Jesus’ efforts mirror that. Jesus looks up to heaven – not hard to figure out what that means – and then He sighs. Scripture scholars throughout the ages have offered dozens of interpretations of the meaning of that sigh. But they are rather problematic. Whenever Jesus has healed in the past, it’s just been a straightforward process. So many of the interpreters find something theatrical in that sigh, but that just doesn’t suit Jesus’ style.
Perhaps we need another verb. A second viable translation is “groan.” To my ear, “groan” has something to do with a physical response, while “sigh” relates to the emotions. Perhaps Jesus is finding this cure particularly demanding. Maybe He groans because He is fighting to maintain the intensity of His healing touch. He digs in His heels, as it were, as the healing drains Him of energy. And maybe that “Ephphatha” is a cry to God for help in fully opening the man to healing.
In any case, though, the man is healed, and Jesus enjoins those nearby to silence. Fat chance. The crowd no doubt hears the “Ephphatha,” even if they don’t see the cure, and they know exactly Who it came from. And so word spreads like wildfire. Which is aggravating, from Jesus’ standpoint. He does not want to be deluged with people needing healing; that’s not the point of His ministry. Rather, God is among the people! Salvation is on its way. That’s Jesus’ message. And now people are going to get sidetracked with the miraculous. Aarrrrggghhh.
On the positive front, this is one of the most intimate scenes we have in Jesus’ life. I’ll bet it’s one that He remembers vividly. There is a powerful human connection between Him and the man He healed. And they must have had so much fun talking to one another afterwards! Can’t you just see the man talking nineteen to the dozen, and Jesus with a smile a mile wide?
But what’s this got to do with you and me?
That’s a tough question. It took me a week to come up with something. The obvious answer is that Jesus’ touch is healing, life-giving, and comforting. And that’s still the truth today. Except after a year out of work, it doesn’t feel like that to me.
Let’s try another tack. Perhaps the meaning is that Jesus’ healing is a process. He’s not just flipping a switch on and off in our lives. Jesus’ healing today is a matter of increments. It often occurs in steps. Just as His healing of this deaf man may have taken some time, it may be the case with His healing now. Day after day, the Divine Physician assesses our spiritual life and supplies little bits of healing here and there, little fine-tuned adjustments. Assuming our cooperation, every day we’ll find ourselves a little stronger, a little more understanding, a little more patient. It happens so seamlessly that we’re scarcely aware of it. We may not be headed where we want, but we surely are headed where He wants. One thing I know is that after this year out of work, I’m more comfortable with ambiguity than I was before. I can handle the uncertainty now far better than I could six months ago. I can feel the intensity of Jesus’ gaze. Who can resist that? I melt every time, agreeing that we can do my life His way, even though I would vastly prefer it my way. Somehow, all of this is a healing process which has something to do with an inner recalibration. It may not be my ears that are being unstopped, but something inside is gradually yielding to the Divine and for a reason. I don’t know where all this is headed, but it is heading somewhere, and it’s bringing healing in its wake. And so yes, Jesus is still healing today.
The challenge for us is to cooperate, no matter what. It’s particularly hard when we don’t understand what’s happening. Trust is hard. We need to recall that everything our God has done in the past has had meaning, and that today is no different. You and I may be flying blind, but we are only the co-pilots. The One at the controls knows exactly what He’s doing, and He’s right on target. We need to believe that. Amen? Amen.