Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 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. 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.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” – Mark 7:31-37
Two things strike me straightaway in this passage: Jesus’ gestures and His futility in trying to get people to shut up. The scene comes on the heels of the story with the Syrophoenician woman. There we find yet another example proving what we’ve seen in Mark’s gospel all along: Jesus’ mission was not to heal as many people as He could, or cast out as many demons as He could, or even to be understood by that many people. He is quite certain of what He’s there to do, and it really isn’t what many modern people think. It’s a sharp reminder that Jesus wasn’t a miracle man who went around doing as much social good as He could. He has a specific mission and will not allow Himself to be drawn away from it in the limited time He has. His messianic vocation will lead Him to the cross at just the right time, but He is not a universal problem-solver or even trying to spread the healing message of the gospel as widely as possible.
Where the Syrophoenician woman came to Jesus, this time it is Jesus who goes to the deaf and mute man. This is the same region where Jesus had cast out the Legion of demons into the pigs, so the crowds certainly know of Him. Jesus takes him to a private place away from the crowd. I wonder if this was a kindness shown to a man who undoubtedly had endured much social pain. At any rate Jesus does something He hasn’t done so far with healings: gestures. Always before Jesus has simply spoken the miracle into being. But this man is deaf and mute; he wouldn’t know what Jesus said, so Jesus performs some sign language. Mark’s gospel is so full of symbols and typology that you might argue that everything Jesus did was “sign” language, but here it is plain to see.
When Jesus pokes His finger into the man’s ear, we are reminded of an Old Testament precedent. When Jesus anoints the man’s tongue with saliva, again, here is a powerful biblical symbol. When Jesus breathes a great sigh, powerful symbolism is being enacted. You’ll have to come to the worship service to hear these things preached, but suffice it to say for the moment, they are chock-full of meaning to reveal Jesus to us better than ever.
The man’s “tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” Jesus had taken him off privately, but it will not remain hidden. “Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.” At this point in Mark’s gospel it is difficult to keep track of how many times Jesus had hoped to be alone or to escape the crowds, all to no avail. He obviously needs more time do accomplish His mission because the scribes and Pharisees know about Him as well as Herod Antipas, so it’s getting thick. Isaiah prophesied that blind eyes would be opened, deaf ears unstopped, and dumb tongues would sing, and that’s what’s happening.
Their astonishment indicates that Isaiah’s prophecy is being fulfilled. That prophecy is the renewal of Israel after the dreadful years of exile. “And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.’” That’s the song of the redeemed whether in the days of Jesus’ ministry on earth or today when Jews, Gentiles, women, men, and children are given sight, hearing, and singing. And that’s the gospel!