"And again He went out from the borders of Tyre, and came through Sidon unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the borders of Decapolis. And they bring unto Him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech Him to lay His hand upon him. And He took him aside from the multitude privately, and put His fingers into his ears, and He spat, and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, He sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. And his ears were opened, and the bond of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain. And He charged them that they should tell no man: but the more He charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it. And they were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: He maketh even the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak." MARK 7:31-37 (R.V.)
THERE are curious and significant varieties in the methods by which our Savior healed. We have seen Him, when watched on the sabbath by eager and expectant foes, baffling all their malice by a miracle without a deed, by refusing to cross the line of the most rigid and ceremonial orthodoxy, by only commanding an innocent gesture, Stretch forth thine hand. In sharp contrast with such a miracle is the one which we have now reached. There is brought to Him a man who is deaf, and whose speech therefore could not have been more than a babble, since it is by hearing that we learn to articulate; but of whom we are plainly told that he suffered from organic inability to utter as well as to hear, for he had an impediment in his speech, the string of his tongue needed to be loosed, and Jesus touched his tongue as well as his ears, to heal him.
It should be observed that no unbelieving theory can explain the change in our Lord's method. Some pretend that all the stories of His miracles grew up afterward, from the sense of awe with which He was regarded. How does that agree with effort, sighing, and even gradation in the stages of recovery, following after the most easy, astonishing and instantaneous cures? Others believe that the enthusiasm of His teaching and the charm of His presence conveyed healing efficacy to the impressible and the nervous. How does this account for the fact that His earliest miracles were the prompt and effortless ones, and as time passes on, He secludes the patient and uses agencies, as if the resistance to His power were more appreciable? Enthusiasm would gather force with every new success.
All becomes clear when we accept the Christian doctrine. Jesus came in the fullness of the love of God, with both hands filled with gifts. On His part there is no hesitation and no limit. But on the part of man there is doubt, misconception, and at last open hostility. A real chasm is opened between man and the grace He gives, so that, although not straitened in Him, they are straitened in their own affections. Even while they believe in Him as a healer, they no longer accept Him as their Lord.
And Jesus makes it plain to them that the gift is no longer easy, spontaneous and of public right as formerly. In His own country He could not do many mighty works. And now, returning by indirect routes, and privately, from the heathen shores whither Jewish enmity had driven Him, He will make the multitude feel a kind of exclusion, taking the patient from among them, as He does again presently in Bethsaida (chap. 8:23). There is also, in the deliberate act of seclusion and in the means employed, a stimulus for the faith of the sufferer, which would scarcely have been needed a little while before.
The people were unconscious of any reason why this cure should differ from former ones. And so they besought Jesus to lay His hand on him, the usual and natural expression for a conveyance of invisible power. But even if no other objection had existed, this action would have meant little to the deaf and dumb man, living in a silent world, and needing to have his faith aroused by some yet plainer sign. Jesus therefore removes him from the crowd whose curiosity would distract his attention - even as by affliction and pain He still isolates each of us at times from the world, shutting us up with God.
He speaks the only language intelligible to such a man, the language of signs, putting His fingers into his ears as if to bread a seal, conveying the moisture of His own lip to the silent tongue, as if to impart its faculty, and then, at what should have been the exultant moment of conscious and triumphant power, He sighed deeply.
What an unexpected revelation of the man rather than the wonder worker. How unlike anything that theological myth or heroic legend would have invented. Perhaps, as Keble sings, He thought of those moral defects for which, in a responsible universe, no miracle may be wrought, of "the deaf heart, the dumb by choice." Perhaps, according to Stier's ingenious guess, He sighed because, in our sinful world, the gift of hearing is so doubtful a blessing, and the faculty of speech so apt to be perverted. One can almost imagine that no human endowment is ever given by Him Who knows all, without a touch of sadness. But it is more natural to suppose that He Who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and Who bare our sickness, thought upon the countless miseries of which this was but a specimen, and sighed for the perverseness by which the fullness of His compassion was being restrained. We are reminded by that sigh, however we explain it, that the only triumphs which made Him rejoice in Spirit were very different from displays of His physical ascendancy.
It is interesting to observe that St. Mark, informed by the most ardent and impressible of the apostles, by him who reverted, long afterwards, to the voice which he heard in the holy mount, has recorded several of the Aramaic words which Jesus uttered at memorable junctures. "Ephphatha, Be opened," He said, and the bond of his tongue was loosed, and his speech, hitherto incoherent, became plain. But the Gospel which tells us the first word he heard is silent about what he said. Only we read, and this is suggestive enough, that the command was at once given to him, as well as to the bystanders, to keep silent. Not copious speech, but wise restraint, is what the tongue needs most to learn. To him, as to so many whom Christ had healed, the injunction came, not to preach without a commission, not to suppose that great blessing required loud announcement, or unfit men for lowly and quiet places. Legend would surely have endowed with special eloquence the lips which Jesus unsealed. He charged them that they should tell no man.
It was a double miracle, and the latent unbelief became clear of the very men who had hoped for some measure of blessing. For they were beyond measure astonished, saying He doeth all things well, celebrating the power which restored the hearing and the speech together. Do we blame their previous incredulity? Perhaps we also expect some blessing from our Lord, yet fail to bring Him all we have and all we are for blessing. Perhaps we should be astonished beyond measure if we received at the hands of Jesus a sanctification that extended to all our powers.