Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’
Jesus is returning from his mission-changing conversation with the Syro-Phoenician woman in which we discover the Gentiles are to be included in Jesus’ mission. Now here’s another healing in Gentile territory, and the feeding of the 4,000 also happens in Gentile territory. Not just the Jews then, but for the Gentiles too there is to be wholeness of mind and body and sufficient-and-to-spare nourishment.
No other Gospel tells this story, probably because Jesus uses his spit during the healing, as well as the use of an incantation which sounded more Greaco-Roman than something the unique Son of God might do. But that emphatic “be opened”, shows Jesus’ authority. In these, and in other miracles, it’s clear Jesus is acting in the power of God. The response to Jesus’ authority is immediate.
What do we notice about this healing? It’s a Gentile healing and a signal that Jesus’ ministry is moving ever outwards, receiving more and more of the excluded peoples. Unnamed people play their part in bringing the person in need to Jesus – something we can do in prayer as we bring others’ needs before our Lord. It’s also fascinating that Jesus takes this man aside and creates a new relationship with him. Perhaps those two things go together; in our lives, others have prayed for us and we have been drawn into a new relationship with Jesus. Now we pray for others, and they in their turn are drawn into that relationship. And Jesus is setting that pattern of prayer as he looks to his heavenly Father for what is needful for this man. These crowds are unnamed – but they become a cloud of witnesses to the change in this man’s life.
May we all play our part in this pattern of prayer, and in this pattern of witnessing to all that Jesus has done in our lives and in the lives of those around us.
Thank you, God, for those who, sometimes unbidden, have prayed for us and made a difference in our lives. Guide us as we play our part in the prayers of your Church. We pray, today, for those we know and long to see drawn into new relationships with you. May ears be opened to hear – and may our mouths be opened to tell of what we have witnessed of your kingdom. Amen
The Rev’d Dr Rosalind Selby, Principal, Northern College