Mark 7: 24 – end – Jesus heals a deaf man
Our gospel reading today tells of two miracles of healing that Jesus did. Both of these took place outside of Israel, the first in the region of Tyre and Sidon which is some way to the north and west of Galilee, and the second in the region known as Decapolis – which simply means ten towns which is both south and east of Galilee. He and the disciples have walked quite a distance. We are not given a reason, but it seems possible that Jesus needed to escape the crowds for a while, or perhaps spend time teaching his disciples. We have looked at the story of the Syrophoenician woman quite recently, and so today we will look more closely at the second part of the reading, in which Jesus heals the deaf man.
A friend of mine when I lived in Scotland had a daughter who was profoundly deaf, and I remember his saying to me once that while blindness cuts people off from things, deafness cuts them off from people. The world of a deaf person can be a very lonely place. Being unable to hear my sermons might be annoying, but possibly no great hardship, but being able to see your friends laughing together and not share the joke must be frustrating in the extreme. The deaf community have now developed ways of effective communication through sign language, and some can lip read – a lady we visit regularly does this, and we have to make a point of sitting facing her when we visit so that she can see our faces clearly. She recently spent some time in hospital, and the chaplain who brought her communion had great problems saying the service as she was wearing a face mask which hid her mouth. I have occasionally had the privilege of watching a group of deaf people singing, and this whether as part of a choir or not is a beautiful sight. Unfortunately, signing is only a useful language when both parties to a conversation understand and can use it, which causes more separation between the hearing and the deaf communities.
I wonder how the deaf man’s friends were able to tell him where they were taking him and why? He would not have been able to hear about Jesus without their support. It is interesting to note the different way that Jesus treats this man compared to other healing miracles – firstly he takes him away from the crowd. If the deaf man is to understand what is going on, he needs to be able to see Jesus clearly particularly his face. Next Jesus touches those parts that need his healing – the man’s ears and his tongue so that he will understand Jesus’ intentions. Jesus then prays to his Father and the word that he uses – which I think is pronounced ‘Ephphatha’ must sound almost like a sigh, but as we heard means ‘Be opened’, and that was all that was necessary. Jesus speaking that word must have been the first thing the deaf man had ever heard – it must have sounded so beautiful to him. His healing was complete with just that word and touch, and the crowds were so overjoyed that they would not be silenced, and I expect that the healed man, having found that he had been given the power of speech found it hard to stop as well! In this miracle Jesus had shown again how he was fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies about him – in this case from Isaiah 35 v5 which says ‘Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped’
When I was quite small, my mother took me to our GP and told him that she was concerned that I might be deaf. I don’t know if he actually tested my hearing, but the doctor’s question was to ask her whether she thought I couldn’t hear – or whether I just didn’t listen! We don’t find it easy to listen well – it is a skill that needs to be practised. I was concerned to learn recently that young people nowadays consider that only the old will have a ring tone on their phones – as they much prefer their phones to be silent and to message each other than to talk. Could we be losing the power of conversation – of speaking and more importantly listening?
Most importantly, how to we communicate with God? It is very difficult not to allow our prayer times to be occasions when we produce a ‘shopping list’ of our concerns to God, and don’t take the time to listen to Him. There seem to be some people who will tell you that God ‘speaks’ to them often – I wish I was one of them. My experience is that if I really want to know what God would say to me, then I must try to clear my mind of all the busyness and clutter of daily life and spend some time in silence. Unlike the deaf man in our story, we live in a noisy world, and people seem very keen to add to their noise – I am constantly surprised by the number of people I see wearing earphones so that they can listen to music or perhaps audio books when they are out and about. It is worth keeping in mind the lovely words of Psalm 46 v10 – ‘Be still and know that I am God’. We also read in Mark 6 v31 that Jesus took the disciples off to a deserted place so that they could rest.
It is interesting to note that the Latin word which means to listen or harken to is Obedire which also means to be subject to, obedient, responsible or a slave. The word for listen is also where we get our word obey – the two are closely linked, and we cannot obey if we have not first listened and taken note.
But even if we manage to escape into stillness, how good are we at really listening? Listening properly is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced – often we fail to listen to others because we are too busy thinking about where we have to be next, or planning our reply before we have properly heard what they have to say – I have to plead guilty to that one! How much harder to listen for the still voice of God, but how much more rewarding if, like the man in today’s story, we do manage to hear it.