Scripture: Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. And 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. And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” Mark 7:31-37 ESV
[Click here to read the entire chapter.]
Observation: Recapping Yesterday’s Daily Focus, Mark alone chronicles a parable known by many titles because of the uncertainty of its central point. Mark places it after The Parable of the Sower and before The Parable of the Mustard Seed, providing continuity to the theme of God’s kingdom’s expansion. Following the agrarian theme of germination and growth found in the other two, Jesus emphasizes his kingdom’s mysterious nature. Similar to The Parable of the Sower, an agent broadcasts the seed. But in this instance, the focus is on how the seed grows independently without the farmer’s attention or comprehension. Still, when the stalks of grain ripen, he will know what to do: put the sickle to them, for it is harvest time.
Today’s reading takes another jump to chapter 7 of Mark’s Gospel. Mark picks up with Jesus and the Twelve in the region of the Decapolis, where Jesus also healed a demon-possessed man. In this story, Mark tells us of another miraculous healing. “They” brought a deaf man with a speech impediment to Jesus to seek his restoration. “They” likely refers to the resident Gentiles, just as the Jews presented their own to Jesus for healing. And as Jesus sometimes did, he withdrew from the crowd to privately address the man. While Jesus sometimes laid his hands on the diseased, here, Jesus, in addition to touching the man’s ears, uniquely spits on his finger and places it on the man’s tongue. First sighing and then praying to the Father (looking up to heaven), he turns toward the man and commands this man’s genetic defect to re-engineer to its intended form: “Ephphatha” (“Be opened!”). And it happened! The man could immediately hear and speak without impediment.
Lastly, following his practice of early ministry healings, Jesus charges the man and witnesses to keep this miraculous healing to themselves (to minimize further disruption of his mission with the growing number of well-seekers). Still, as often happened, the word spread even more rapidly.
Takeaway: The Greek word translated as “speech impediment” is “mogilalos,” and is found nowhere else in the New Testament and found only once in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament). In Isaiah 35:6, the prophet poetically foretells the Messianic Age, where the lamb will leap like a dear, and the mute (mogilalos) will shout for joy. Undoubtedly, Mark had this well-known passage in mind to point to Jesus as the Messiah, for surely this healed man shouted for joy. Wouldn’t you?
Still, our text demands we ponder heartbreak as well. Mark poignantly depicts Jesus’ sadness (sighed) over the ill effects of our sin-marred world. Of the Gospel authors, Mark alone uses “sighed” to emphasize Jesus’ human nature, where he grieves the suffering of humankind. In the only other instance found in the next chapter, Mark tells us Jesus “sighed” deeply in his spirit over his people demanding a sign—saddened by their disbelief which will bring eternal suffering (see 8:12).
Our takeaway? Be Open. How so? First, just as Jesus speaks the word (ephphathra) with authority to release the words from the mute man’s mouth, he similarly empowers us to open our mouths and proclaim his Gospel to all nations. But we have the decided advantage of the Holy Spirit, who will give us the words to say—even under duress (see Luke 12:11-12).
Secondly, our Lord is not a distant, stern diety indifferent to our suffering. While he garners our attention and matures us in the faith through redemptive suffering, he longs for the day of his return, where he will banish sin from his new creation and end suffering and death (see Revelation 20:14-21:4). So be open to his love and care through the comforting thoughts of the Holy Spirit and the pastoral words of fellow believers.
Lastly, when we experience God’s grace, whether it leads to healing, restoration, or relieves our mental and spiritual anguish as we face the dying process, we will find the strength to carry on when we openly express our joy (as did Isaiah’s mute man) and zealously tell others of how our Lord is working in our lives (as did the crowd).
Indeed, all three are our expressions of faith and worship that bring glory to the Father and Son and lighten our burden.
Prayer: Father God, thank you for your Son who opened our mouths, minds, and hearts to give us new life and a new story. And we thank you for your Holy Spirit, our Comforter and Counselor, who opens our minds to his consoling and encouraging words and directs others to do the same for us. Still, we confess that we are prone to waiver in our faith and become cynical when under duress. So in those moments, would you please pry open our hearts and minds to receive those comforting and reassuring words that inspire us to open our mouths, praise you, and go and tell others? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling