Those who witnessed Jesus healing the man who was deaf with a speech impediment grasped something more than just the healing when they stated: “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak” (Mk 7:37). With these words, they were acknowledging the deliverance of Israel by the Lord, promised by the prophet Isaiah, when he mentioned how, “the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf will be cleared” (Isaiah 35:5).
The beauty of this healing may be missed by us in the modern age because of the graphic nature of the details used by Mark. Jesus places his fingers in the man’s ears, spits into his own hands, and then touches the man’s tongue. Jesus is mixing his own saliva with this man in need of healing. We don’t even share drinks from the same bottle anymore as we used to do when we were kids! Adding the fact that we are still in the midst of a pandemic, this imagery can seem incomprehensible!
Yet, what Jesus is showing is the intimacy of communion that he offers us. He gave the very essence of his own being that it would be mingled with this man. This physical teaching is an image or icon, of how the Son of God, in no way diminishing the fullness of his divinity, entered into the very real corporality of our humanity. He became one with us so that we can become one with him. This was true then and it is still true for us today!
We all suffer physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual trials. But we also suffer from not being able to hear God’s word, and so are mute in speaking his word. Jesus, even if he does not provide a healing or an immediate solution to a trial, is present in our lives. We are invited to consciously resist the temptation of avoiding our own suffering, pain, or challenges and instead are invited to embrace and enter into them. We are not expected to do this alone, but to bring our need for healing to Jesus. In this way, we are aligning our suffering with his on the Cross. When we choose to offer up our pain and suffering on behalf of another, we participate in redemptive suffering. Others can experience relief and healing from our sacrifice in participation with Jesus.
This act of the will gives meaning to our suffering such that we do not endure what we are going through in vain. In this way, we face, head-on, that which rises before us, actualizing the guidance of Jesus as well as the advances of modern medicine, science, and psychology, embracing a posture that engages both faith and reason. Our approach will be best if we are more mindful and balanced with our discernment. Just masking struggles without dealing with the root causes will only prolong and possibly worsen the condition. I have experienced the benefits of both faith and science during my year of recovery from pneumonia.
Jesus seeks to heal us as he did the man in today’s Gospel of Mark by saying: “Ephphatha!” to us as well, so that we too can hear his word, speak his word, and be more present to and love one another. Jesus also wants to heal others through us. With ears more open to the voice of God, we become more aware of the needs of others. The best gift of healing we can offer to one another is to be present and really listen to and hear them, such that they have experienced being heard and loved.
Picture: Icon of Jesus healing the man deaf and mute – Artist unknown.