In the Gospel reading for today, we hear:
“Jesus left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis. And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man's ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ (that is, ‘Be opened!’) And immediately the man's ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly. He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it. They were exceedingly astonished and they said, ‘He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.’” (Mk 7:31-37)
Jesus performed a LOT of miracles of healing while He walked this earth. And each time was unique. It is not just that each individual who was healed was unique - and they were. But it is that the way in which Jesus chose to reveal His power is unique. In today’s miracle, Jesus heals the deaf man with a speech impediment.
The way that He healed Him is what I want to briefly reflect on here. “He put his finger into the man's ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ (that is, ‘Be opened!’).” If anyone other than Jesus did this action, I would think it was really gross. In fact, I still think it seems fairly gross. But what is Jesus showing us?
This healing is exceptionally sacramental. Jesus is using signs and symbols to bring about a true change. He is showing us how body and soul are interpenetrating and how the natural world points us to God. He could have healed the man with a word but chose to show that His Divine Body is united to the Godhead.
The groaning of Jesus before saying Ephphatha is also exceptional. Jesus would not even need to speak aloud to receive what He needs from His Father. Yet, he groans. There is much to be said here. But I think Jesus is doing two things: 1) He is giving us a model to follow and 2) He is uniting His action with humanity. As a model, He is showing us that we do not always need the right words, we need to look up. We need to look towards heaven from whence all good and healing comes. And to the second, He united Himself to fallen humanity by groaning.
As St. Paul writes to the Church in Rome:
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:19-23)
Notice that all of creation is groaning. This groaning is likened to childbirth where we await the next world. As a baby does not have any sense of what is outside of the womb, so too is fallen humanity awaiting redemption and sonship. Perhaps I am reading too far into Jesus groaning in the Gospel account, but I think that it fits. Jesus is showing us that in our sinfulness, brokenness, and need for redemption, we must groan towards heaven.
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