Jesus Cures a Deaf ManMark 7:31-37 (NRSV)
Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
When my kids were young, we watched Sesame Street a lot. And I have to say, even as an adult, I learn quite a bit from Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Oscar the Grouch, and Bert and Ernie. Not only did Sesame Street teach counting and letter recognition but it also taught social skills like showing respect and being a good friend, cognitive skills that would increase a child’s self-esteem, and nonaggressive ways of resolving conflict. And on Sesame Street, they talked openly, at an age-appropriate level, about real-life experiences like death, divorce, racism, natural disasters, and war. But one of the things that I really loved about Sesame Street is that they also taught Spanish.
Now I took three years of Spanish in high school and another year in college, but I’ll be honest, it was the Spanish that I learned on Sesame Street that has stuck with me the best. One of my favorite clips was about “open” and “closed.” Does anyone remember that one? Abierto. Cerrado. Abierto. Cerrado.
Well, there is also a story in the Bible–actually, it’s the healing story that we heard this morning–about Jesus healing the man that was deaf and had a speech impediment, which means that the man could not hear and struggled to speak.
Now sometimes in the healing stories, Jesus simply speaks and the person is healed, while other times, he lays his hands on them and they are freed from their ailment. But this time, Jesus does both. First, scripture says, that he takes the man to a private place. Then he puts his fingers in the man’s ears, touches his tongue, and says “Ephphatha” and suddenly the man can hear and speak.
Now that word, “Ephphatha,” means be opened, which in case you’re interested would be “ser abierto” in Spanish. Now I wonder, what language do you think the word “Ephphatha” comes from? It comes from Aramaic, which is the language that Jesus spoke. Does it surprise anyone that Jesus didn’t speak English? Actually, he also spoke Hebrew in the temple with the Rabbis. And because Jesus wanted to be as welcoming as he could be, he also spoke Greek with those not native to Judea. But the average person in the eastern Mediterranean area during Jesus’ time would have spoken Aramaic.
Now in scripture, in the gospel of Mark, at least, it is only in the most intimate and sacred moments that we hear Jesus speak in Aramaic. Once when he healed a young girl, he reached out to her and said “Talitha koum,” meaning “little girl it’s time to get up.” In the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus goes to pray, we hear Jesus calling out to God saying “Abba” which means “Father.” And on the cross, Jesus cries out to God “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani,” meaning “my God, my God Why have you forsaken me?”
Each time Jesus uses Aramaic words in the bible, they are always words that are used in private because Jesus is speaking intimately using the common language that he would have shared. And it is a way that the writer of the gospel of Mark emphasizes the sacred intimacy of each of those moments.
Okay, so all these languages, and these healing stories, what do they mean in the whole grand scheme of things? And what do they mean to our everyday faith? Well, this little word, “Ephphatha,” or “be opened,” kind of sums up Jesus’ work here on earth. You see, Jesus came to help us “be opened” so that we could begin to hear the still speaking voice of God. Jesus came to encourage us to look beyond ourselves and our wants and to be open so that we can listen to the needs of our community and our world. Because sometimes, like the deaf and mute man in today’s story, our spiritual ears are blocked, and we are unable to faithfully respond to the world around us with grace and love. Sometimes we are comfortable with our language and we like things done the way we like them done, and we forget that it’s not only about us, but that we are part of something so much more.
So, friends, I challenge you this week to look outside of the box. Listen not only
to your wants and your desires but to the thoughts, ideas, and needs of others. May
your minds experience Ephphatha. May your hearts ser abierto. And may your
faith be strengthened by the movement of the spirit as you allow heart, your mind, and your soul to “Be opened!”
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!