Ephphtha (Mark 7)
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" (vv33-34).
Ephphatha. I just love when the Gospel writers leave the Aramaic words in the Greek text. It happens at very important times. The most obvious example is Jesus on the cross, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani" (Matthew 27:46). The Gospel writers see these events as great and glorious points in Jesus' ministry. So they keep Jesus' exact words in their text, even though they were spoken and written in two different languages.
But what is so spectacular about this event? Why would the healing of a deaf-mute be an important event in Jesus' ministry? Because you and I, and every person on earth, is a spiritual deaf-mute by nature. Not only are your ears closed, they are DEAD in sin. St. Paul writes to the Ephesians (2:1-3):
- And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience--among whom WE ALL once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
But you say, "I'm a Christian. I have great faith in Jesus. I can't be dead!" St. James writes, "So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (2:17). Faith is a wonderful gift from God. But we seek to close our ears to those wonderful words. We bind our tongue so we cannot speak those wonderful words. By nature, we want God to prove Himself. We, like the deaf Jews who challenged Jesus, seek signs from God Himself (John 2:18; 6:30). They weren't naturally deaf, like the man Jesus healed. They were purposely deaf, not wanting to hear what Jesus said. It didn't agree with their presuppositions. Jesus didn't fit in with their agenda. We often come to the Bible with our own presuppositions about how God should be and should act. We often come to the Bible with our own agenda. That's what divides the different denominations of the Christian Church today. By nature, we seek to read the Bible so that it agrees with what we already think. When the Bible disagrees with us, we plug our ears so we cannot hear what it really says.
What does the Bible really say? Ephphatha. Be opened. The Bible is an open book. It's a book that opens you when you read it. Your whole being is opened. Your eyes. Your ears. Your mouth. Your heart. Your soul. We cannot open what is closed. The Bible says, "BE opened." Not open up. Someone else must open you. That is the story of the Bible.
Like the deaf man, we are trapped in our own little world. We cannot get out. Nor do we really want to get out. Not until we realize that our own little world is collapsing around us.
It reminds me of a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode called "Remember Me." In the episode, the ship's doctor gets trapped in a static warp bubble created by her son's engineering experiment. Trapped inside, she notices people slowly disappearing from the ship. The whole ship's population decreases from 1014 to 1. She thinks they've been pulled into the bubble. She doesn't realize that SHE's the one trapped until the computer tells her the universe is a sphere less than a kilometer in diameter. Outside the bubble, the doctor's son feverishly works to open a gateway to retrieve her. She can not get out by herself. The bubble had to be opened from the outside.
Ephphatha. Be opened. Your ears have to be opened from the outside. Jesus has to come and open your ears. As He did with the deaf-mute, He does with you as well. We receive the gift of the Holy Spirit in Baptism (Acts 2:38). But He cannot enter your heart unless your ears are open. So, in the waters of Baptism, Jesus groans, "Ephphatha!" Your ears open and the Holy Spirit enters your heart. Now, you can hear Jesus' Word.
But we're not called only to hear the Word. "Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only" (James 1:22). We're called to DO (James 2:17-18):
- So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith BY MY WORKS.
You cannot see faith in the heart. It has to be displayed. This is evangelism. Many people cringe at the word "evangelism" because they hear our wonderful "evangelical" brothers and sisters giving their testimonies. What God has done for them. What great struggles God delivered them out of. Each of us has a story. But our story cannot open ears. HIS story opens ears. Not the "history of Jesus". The words Jesus used. Words like ephphatha.
But we can only speak these words clearly if our ears have been opened. With closed ears, we cannot speak clearly. We don't know if we're making the right sounds or not. Jesus stuck His fingers into the man's ears and spit on his tongue. His ears were immediately opened. His tongue immediately loosed from the binding that had kept him from speaking clearly. Jesus' word allowed him to speak clearly.
Your tongue has also been loosed in Baptism. Because your sins have been forgiven. Because your ears have been opened by His word. Your tongue has been loosed to tell the great news. You are able to clearly speak Jesus' Word to people who need to have their ears opened.
When Jesus loosens your tongue, you cannot help but praise Him. After Jesus healed the deaf-mute, He "charged [the crowd] to tell no one. But the more He charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it" (v36). As He had told His mother in Cana, "My hour has not yet come" (John 2:4). The deaf-mute's loosened tongue could not withhold the joy bubbling out of his heart. He went about with words like Psalm 146: "Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul! I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being" (vv1-2). He sung the praises of the Jesus who opened his ears and loosened his tongue.
God's praise is at the heart of evangelism. We cannot evangelize effectively if we're not praising God for His salvation of our souls. The deaf-mute can praise God and tell everyone about what Jesus had done for him. Jesus took him away from the crowd to perform the miracle. He can properly and clearly tell the good news of his healing.
Despite being told NOT to tell anyone, the crowd tells everyone anyway. They may have gotten the story right. They might not have gotten it right. After all, how can you testify to something you didn't witness? The crowd did not have their ears opened. Their tongues weren't loosed. They cannot tell the deaf-mute's story. Jesus charged them not to give false testimony. After all, one wrong detail in the story makes it a false testimony. Jesus doesn't want people to spread false testimony about Him. He wants the truth to be spread.
The truth can only come from praising His actions, His activity, in YOUR life. You can only testify to what He has done FOR YOU. He has brought you to faith. He has promised you everlasting life in Heaven. These things drive us to praise God and tell of His wonderful things. He wants you to speak His words. Words that forgive sins. Words that save souls. Words that open the gates of Heaven for everlasting life. Ephphatha! Be opened! Amen.