The healing of the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter hints at Jesus’ mission to ultimately bring peoples of all nations into God’s Kingdom. Mark emphasizes this point in his introduction to the next story. He states that Jesus went ‘from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.’ Geographically, this makes no sense at all. It would be rather like saying he went north to go south east! Sidon was north of Tyre on the Mediterranean Sea (west); the Decapolis was a region on the southeast side of Galilee. These were all Gentile regions. Mark isn’t describing a literal journey so much as symbolically embracing “the entire Hellenistic neighborhood surrounding Galilee” (Myers, 2015, p. 205). Mark also leaves the ethnicity of the characters in today’s devotion, the deaf dumb man and the ‘they’ who brought him to Jesus, a mystery, although we can assume they were Gentiles from that Gentile region.
Prepare to listen. Silent preparation before praying: Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name. (Psalm 86:11)
Read Mark 7:31-37
31Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ 35And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’
From the distant northwest of Tyre, Jesus travels to another Gentile region on the south eastern shore of Galilee. ‘They’ (no indication who ‘they’ are) bring a deaf man with a speech impediment and beg Jesus to heal him. Jesus’ behavior is a little strange. Without saying a word, he took him aside, in private, away from the crowd. It gets stranger and to some of us, a little disgusting: ‘he put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue.’ Placing his fingers in the man’s ears made this deaf man even deafer! It seems that before his deaf ears could be opened Jesus first had to make them worse, taking him deeper into silence. Then Jesus said, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ This is one of the few times Mark gives us the word in the language Jesus spoke, Aramaic. Ephphatha, pronounced ef-faf-tha, is a soft word. Try saying it out loud. It’s not the sort of word to shout out. A soft word spoken, ‘and immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.’ The imagery is that of a tongue that was tied up in knots and suddenly untied and released. At last the man could hear and speak plainly.
We live in a culture today that is in constant noise. The spiritual writer Henri Nouwen once complained: “Wherever we go we are surrounded by words: words softly whispered, loudly proclaimed, or angrily screamed; words spoken, recited or sung; words in books, on walls; words in many sounds, colors, forms; words to be heard, read, seen or glanced at …. Words, words, words! They form the floor, the walls, and the ceiling of our existence” (The Way of the Heart 1981, p. 45). We’ve learned to listen selectively, tuning out the noises and words we don’t want to hear. As a result, we have become a little hard of hearing and our speech is often misunderstood because unclear or simply not heard well. We too need Jesus to take us away from the noise, somewhere private so he can block our ears to the noise surrounding us, spit on our tongues to untie our wordy knots, and speak a soft word that we’ll finally hear—Be opened.
What keeps you from getting away from the crowd and the noise, in private to hear Jesus’ soft word?
Respond to Jesus in prayer
Lord Jesus, I know that I have become dull of hearing and my speech unclear. Help me carve out time to get away and be private with you and hear you speak words of healing. Amen.
Go and live obediently in the world where Jesus says softly, ‘Be opened.’