Jesus left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis. And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”) And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly. He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it. They were exceedingly astonished and they said, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”Mark 7:31-37
Faith in the Decapolis
Leaving the Gentile district of Tyre, Jesus journeyed to the Decapolis by a circuitous route, bearing Israel’s hope to the nations. During his last visit, Jesus had healed a demoniac in the tombs, shocking the townspeople by drowning a swineherd. This time they welcomed Jesus with faith, asking him to heal a deaf man with a speech impediment.
Respecting the man’s need for privacy, Jesus escorted him away from the crowd. Healing the man in a series of steps, he put his finger in the man’s ears and his saliva on his tongue. Looking up to heaven, he groaned. Then he turned to the man and commanded in Aramaic, “Ephphatha!” (“Be opened!”) And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly.
The deaf-mute represents all humankind in need of healing and wholeness. When the Messiah comes, the prophets foretold, he will restore his people.
Then the eyes of the blind shall see,Isaiah 35:5-6
and the ears of the deaf be opened;
Then the lame shall leap like a stag,
and the mute tongue sing for joy.
For waters will burst forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the Arabah.
Fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah, Christ restores paradise. In Genesis, the Spirit hovered over the face of the waters as God spoke order into chaos through his Word.3 In the new Genesis, sighing in the Spirit, Christ opened the ears of the deaf-mute with a word.
God’s Two Hands
Over the centuries, theologians explained Christ’s saving work as the action of the Holy Trinity. In Irenaeus’ famous image, the Father reaches out to heal man with his “two hands”—the Son and the Spirit.1 St. Gregory the Great writes: “The Spirit is called the finger of God. When the Lord put his fingers into the ears of the deaf mute, he was opening the soul of man to faith through the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”2
He Has Done All Things Well
In an instant, the man’s ears opened to hear the sweet voice of his Savior, and his tongue loosened to praise the Lord. Jesus’ order to say nothing about the miracle went unheeded. Echoing Isaiah, the crowd proclaimed: “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
Christ Heals the Nations
May the Lord open the ears of the nations, pouring out his Spirit as at Pentecost.4
“Ephphatha!” says the Word to the nations.
Hear and speak the Spirit’s inspirations.
1 Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book V, Chapter 6.
2 St. Gregory the Great, Homilies on Ezekiel, Homily 10.
3 Genesis 1:1-3.
4 Acts 2.