In today’s Gospel from St. Mark, the people bring to Jesus a deaf man, begging him to “lay his hand on him.”
Being deaf in Jesus’ time was not just about not being able to hear or speak clearly. Physical impairment was often viewed as the consequence of sin, with the result that people suffering from deafness, blindness, etc., had little status and were barred from many things. So in asking Jesus to lay his hands on the man, they seek what will not only physically heal him, but will restores him to community.
There is a beautiful intimacy to the encounter between the deaf man and Jesus. We are told by Mark that Jesus “took him aside in private, away from the crowd.” He then put his fingers into the man’s ears, spat and touched his tongue. “Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.'”
As I see the scene in my mind, I see the man (with no one else to distract him) focused totally on Jesus – his actions, his words, his physical closeness. And I see Jesus, the incarnation of God, physically manifesting God’s love to the man through his intimate touch, and his words.
The man can now hear and speak and is thus restored to community. Jesus heals his physical body and loss of community.
But the man can also now hear and proclaim the Gospel. To us, who sometimes have blocked our ears to the Gospel or refused to speak the Good News to others, Jesus also says “Ephphatha!”