Wednesday, December 2, 2020
Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 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. 33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
One of the first lessons that you are supposed to teach all young children is “Do not put anything smaller than your elbow inside of your ear.” And the reason that I now know this is that we did not effectively communicate this message to all of our children. One late-spring evening, after our oldest, then 5-years-old, was finished taking a bath, unbeknownst to her parents, she apparently helped herself to a Q-tip from the bathroom drawer and, just like she had seen Daddy do, attempted to get the leftover water out of her ear. Moments later she emerged from the bathroom screaming in pain, holding her ear with one hand and a bloodied cotton-tipped apparatus in the other. A quick trip to the pediatrician confirmed a ruptured ear drum which fortunately would heal on its own, although it of course meant the inability to enjoy the pool, which was just a five minute walk from the house, for pretty much the duration of the entire summer.
Some time after His encounter with the Syrophoenician woman in the Gentile region of Tyre, Jesus and the disciples made their way back south towards the Sea of Galilee. They arrived in the region of the Decapolis where previously Jesus had been run out of town after healing a demon-possessed man and in the process allowing the destruction of an entire herd of pigs. This time, however, Jesus receives a far warmer reception. Matthew tells us that the growing crowd brought before Him “the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at His feet.” So many of those that would have been considered the “refuse of society” gathered around Jesus that He may as well have been called the Galilean Statue of Liberty.
While Matthew provides only a list of ailments, Mark chooses to focus on only one particular individual who was brought to Jesus. Among the others was a particular man who was unable to either hear or speak. Without any formal system of sign language, and very likely lacking the ability to read or write, we can only begin to imagine how difficult of an existence this man must have endured. When we think on all the difficulty that the deaf and mute man had communicating with anyone, it is likely that he had no idea at all what was going on as he was hurried through the bustling streets of the Decapolis. Mark tells us that the crowd begged Jesus just to lay His hand on the man, that he might be healed. But instead of a simple touch Jesus pulls the man away from the chaos of the crowd and gives him His undivided attention.
Now to us this is where things get a bit strange, and perhaps even a little gross. The first thing Jesus does is to take His fingers and put them inside of the man’s ears. You may be thinking “a finger is smaller than an elbow!” and, while you would be correct, remember that the man’s ears were already damaged. Then, as if giving the man a dry-willy is not odd enough, Jesus spits on those same fingers and puts them in the man’s mouth, touching his tongue. Although Jesus technically followed the directive of the crowd by placing His hands on the man, neither the touch nor the saliva of Jesus brought instant healing. Instead, by touching his broken parts, Jesus communicates to the deaf man what He is about to do in the only way that he will be sure to receive the message. Sensing the man’s bewilderment and confusion, Jesus not only explained what He was doing, but also who He was.
Then, Jesus looked up towards His Heavenly Father, with the man surely following His gaze. Taking in a deep breath and letting out an even deeper groan, with a single word Jesus spoke restoration and healing into existence. The first sound the deaf man heard was the voice of Jesus, and he immediately put his tongue to use by telling anyone who would listen about the unbelievable miracle he just received. Although, Jesus ordered them to keep this to themselves, as He had done after so many miracles before, now the man and his friends were all unable to hear or respond to the voice of Jesus. In their astonishment they loudly proclaimed, for all the world to hear, the miraculous deeds of the incredible Jesus.
Perhaps the strangest aspect of this miracle is the fact that Jesus was probably not the first person to stick His fingers in the ears and mouth of this man. In the first century it was not uncommon for mystical healers to travel from town to town offering their services to the most desperate and vulnerable. These snake-oil-type miracle workers would make outlandish claims of their ability to perform anything from exorcisms to healings, of course always for a fee paid up front, and perhaps even plant a few “sick” people in the audience to help grease the wheels. Among their many bizarre and exotic prescribed “remedies” was one particularly humorous one given for rheumatic feet that involved wrapping the ailing feet with the tooth of a weasel, picked off the ground with the left hand, inside of either the skin of a lion (because it is brave) or a young deer (because it is fast). Of course their true nefarious genius lie in their ability to then blame the one who had paid for the miracle, like the woman in Capernaum who bankrupt herself in search of respite from a decade of bleeding, for a lack of faith when they inevitably failed to deliver.
Jesus proved Himself to be pretty much the exact opposite of those opportunistic swindlers in every way. Instead of boasting in His miraculous power, Jesus always pointed past the signs to the Father. Rather than attracting crowds to Him, Jesus sought to distance Himself from them. Instead of taking advantage of the desperate and the vulnerable, Jesus showed them compassion and empathy, in the process restoring their hope and dignity.
Of course Jesus did not come merely to show mercy to the poor and bring healing to the sick, but to announce the love of God for all humanity. Whether at home among the Jews, or here among the the Gentiles, Jesus’ mission was to declare the arrival of the Kingdom of God. The Messiah was to be a light and hope to all peoples and nations, not just the healthy, wealthy, and holy, as so many of the Jewish religious leaders believed.
Contrary to popular belief, status in the Kingdom is never based on merit or material success. Scripture tells us that no matter how hard we try, nothing we can do would ever be enough to satisfy the penalty owed for our sin. In a very real sense, each of us are like that deaf and mute man from the Decapolis. Dazed and confused in the swirling chaos of the world, our only hope is found in the Son who has taken us aside and made Himself known to us in the way that we could understand. Just as our “good” behavior can never be enough to secure our favor with God, so also no amount of “bad” behavior can disqualify us once we have received it. The grace of the Father purchased through the blood of the Son and implanted in our hearts by His Spirit is greater than all our fears, all our anxieties, and especially all of our sin.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, we thank You for doing for us what what we could never do for ourselves. Forgive us for the times that we confuse the good news of the gospel and seek Your gifts without seeking You. We pray that You would continue to move and work in our hearts today, filling us with your peace, joy, hope, and love. We pray in Your gracious name, Amen.