SCRIPTURES – Isaiah 35:4-7; James 2:1-10, 14-18; Mark 7:31-37; Ps. 28
They brought to Him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. Taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Mark 7
“Ephphatha.” “Be opened.” May our Lord open our ears, our minds, and our hearts by the story of this miraculous healing by Jesus, which was recorded for us by Mark. It is such an interesting story, with important things for us to take note of.
Notice, for instance, where it takes place. Jesus has traveled to the region of the Decapolis, an area of ten cities on the southeastern side of the Sea of Galilee. It is Gentile territory. Jesus is outside of the borders of Israel. Yahweh, the God is Israel, is worshiped by few there. These are people of foreign customs and many gods.
Their situation before the one true God is epitomized by the man who is brought to Jesus. He is deaf and has a speech impediment, probably the result of his deafness. We learn to talk, to pronounce and form words properly, by first hearing them. As this man cannot hear, he doesn’t know how to form his words properly. His speech is unclear. So it is with him and his people before God. Being deaf to Yahweh, the true God, to whose words they do not listen, they cannot speak rightly in worship and prayer. They speak not to Him but to strange and non-existent gods, and so also speak contrary to how God wishes to be worshiped and addressed. Their words are words of bargaining and of uncertainty, not confident prayers addressed to a God of love.
But now, the true God, who has formed our ears and mouths and can heal those that are broken, comes to them; and in flesh, as one like them! Taking the deaf man aside, Jesus puts His fingers into His ears, indicating that He will be opening them. Then, He spits and touches his tongue. Perhaps He is simply indicating that He is going to heal his tongue, which right now is spitting forth gibberish. But, people in those days would also sometimes spit to ward off evil, and so perhaps Jesus was indicating that He was going to turn the man’s tongue, which had been bound by evil and had confessed false gods, to speech that is good and holy. (This is why, by the way, Orthodox Christians in their baptismal ceremony spit when renouncing the devil. That custom comes from this story.) Finally, Jesus looks up to heaven, showing the man that God is our helper who hears our sighs and prayers; and then, that he might know that God works through Him, He speaks one word: “Ephphatha.” Now the man not only hears. He speaks right words of praise, for he praises Jesus! “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” The true God speaks and works through Jesus, and is praised in and through Him alone.
There is one final, and very important, thing to note: this all happened because some anonymous people brought the man to Jesus. They believed that He could help and heal the man, and so they brought him to Him. Their simple act of service resulted in a miracle that not only changed the man’s life; it also brought honor to Jesus and revealed Him as the Savior to people who did not know the true God.
Our society today is not so unlike that Gentile society in the Decapolis. Many gods – or none – are worshiped and prayed to by many people around us. Some have no certainty that God hears them and will help them. And so, many prayers and praises are to God unclear and confusing gibberish.
We not only know that in Jesus God has come to us. We know that, as Isaiah says, He has “come with vengeance, with the recompense of God to save us.” He showed this by His miracles of healing. And, He showed this especially by the miracle of His death for our sins and His resurrection from the dead for our forgiveness. It is the clearest evidence that our sins have been forgiven and are no more. Our sins, along with the devil and all evil, have been overcome and have no hold on us! We can therefore be strong and fear not! “The Lord is the strength of his people; He is the saving refuge of his anointed.” (Ps. 28)
Who is this message for? Well, it is for everyone, of course, for Christ came for all and died for all. But, it is especially the lowly, those who have nothing to offer and who are looked down upon in their weakness and sinfulness, that Jesus helps. The holy and pious people in Israel did not travel to the Decapolis or any other Gentile region, but avoided them. They did not want to be stained by those heathens, those unclean and idolatrous sinners! Jesus went to them because they could not render Him unclean. His holiness could cleanse them and save them. He went to them in mercy and love, as God among them in mercy and love.
You know His love and mercy. You received it as the water of Holy Baptism washed over you and cast out the devil and the unholiness of your sins. You receive it when God’s holy words enter your ears and Christ’s body and blood touch your tongues. The holiness of His life, death and resurrection for you cleanses you and makes you holy! No unholiness in this world, nor any trial or tribulation or physical affliction, can take it away or overcome it.
Open your mouths, then, to praise His name, and your hands to praise Him with your works. You know that tomorrow is Labor Day, a day set aside by our country to honor the American worker and his labors. Well, no greater honor is given to our works than the honor that Jesus gives. He received the deaf man with the speech impediment who was brought to Him by anonymous friends, and He honored their trust and hope in Him by healing the man. He also caused this story to be written down, that it might be told again and again until He comes to the blessing of countless people. How great has become their anonymous work, far greater than they could ever have imagined or wished!
So it is with our works and labors as Christ’s people, and especially those of ministering to the lowly and unclean and despised and rejected. They bring praise to His name, and He will never forget them! He will cause them to be proclaimed at the final Judgment.
Confidently and joyously, then, let us work and labor. Confidently and joyously let us pray for and help others in the name of Jesus. Confidently and joyously let us praise the Triune God in His name. Our Lord Jesus, who has done all things well, will receive our works and praises, and even join Himself to them, to the eternal praise and glory of His Father in heaven! Thanks be to Him forever! Amen.