“And he took him aside from the multitude, 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” (Mark 7:33-34).
We find ourselves today with Jesus Christ and a deaf man. For Jesus, being the eternal Son of God, it wasn’t any challenge to heal someone sick. He created the universe with a thought. He can cure deafness with a thought too. But why then does our Lord heal the man in such a strange way? Why the spitting and touching?
It helps to look at this through the eyes of a child.
First of all, every boy should love this passage, because it shows us that even God likes to spit. But on a deeper level, I suspect that any young child would have an easier time understanding the passage than us grownups.
When my kids fall down and hurt their knees, the very first thing they do is run to their mama or papa and ask for a kiss. It’s all new to me and so profoundly beautiful. They run about and explore, then end up hurting themselves in a matter of seconds. Instantly, they look up to the source of help. I’ve never seen such genuine desire before. They want a kiss. The other day, I think Eva must have had her feelings hurt. She looked up to me and said, “booboo.” I asked where? She seemed a little unsure. First, she bent down for me to kiss her head, so I did. Then she put out both hands and, with her little eyes, again asked, “kiss me.”
Why do children want to be kissed when they’re hurt?
They don’t understand why they hurt. They don’t know anything about anatomy and certainly less about gravity…but they know that goodness comes from their parents. We can learn a lot from them. Children also understand, on a level far deeper then all the theologians and philosophers, that what we’re all seeking for, more than anything, is intimacy. It wouldn’t be enough for me to just wish Eva to feel better. It wouldn’t satisfy for me to just tell he she’ll be okay.
She needs connection. And so do we in our relationship with God.
We learn everything about man and God in this encounter with the deaf man.
There’s only one reason why Jesus Christ’s spitting and touching might seem strange to a Christian. We forget how near and palpable God is. We compartmentalize our religion, making God out to be some vague, transcendent being, and that our faith concerns the purely spiritual matters. But God no longer is mere spirit. He is Flesh. Our walk in Christ is as tangible and corporal as your spit and ears and mouth. This meeting between Jesus and the deaf man is about the Incarnation.
Let’s look again at the passage.
“He took him aside from the multitude, 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.”
Immediately, this passage brings us back to the beginning
Genesis 2:7: “Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”
When it all began, God took a little dirt, and then poured out His Spirit into the dirt. You can imagine a potter sculpting some work of art out of clay and water. But God sculpted His work with the moisture of the condensation of His own breath. Even in this first start to life we see God’s intimacy with us.
But there was a problem. Adam and Eve sinned. We chose to do things our own way apart from God and so, consequently, all kinds of brokenness entered into our lives: bitterness, anger, depression, lust, addiction and even death. The Church Fathers teach that the deaf man in the gospel represents this kind of humanity. He’s crippled in the way that we are all crippled. Jesus Christ brings us a way out.
He is the second Adam; the second kind of humanity. He’s the opportunity to become a new kind of person.
Paul explains, “The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit…The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven…the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (1 Cor. 15:45;53). "Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 13:14).
That’s what it means to be Christian. But how do we do this?
Jesus shows us in the very way that He heals the deaf man.
Again: “He took him aside from the multitude, 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.”
First, in order to heal us, Jesus Christ has to take us aside. In other words, we can’t keep living the same lifestyle. Nowadays, you hear all kind of talk about not judging and accepting the lifestyles of others. That’s all very good. But it isn’t Christian. We have to love everyone. But the gospel is clear that certain lifestyles lead to death. We have step aside from the ways of the world in order to meet God, and that’s a lifetime process.
Second, once we’ve stepped away from sin, we’re able to encounter God, and that encounter is always intimate and tangible. Jesus didn’t heal the deaf man in some spiritual manner. He spat and touched. That’s how God is in our lives. He heals us body and soul, flesh and blood.
This is the Church.
“Arise and be baptized” (Acts 22:16).
"Is there any one among you suffering…Let him call for the presbyters of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 4:13-15).
“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:26).
We aren’t saved in a vacuum. We aren’t saved by mere faith and beliefs. We are not saved from the world. We are saved in the world.
God heals us through the splash of baptism and each time we put our fingers into holy water and make the sign of the cross. God heals us when we kneel at the altar rail to eat His Body and drink His Blood. God heals us when we come to a priest for anointing, or when the priest lays his hands over us and says the absolution. God heals us in the music, the incense, the robes…all the physical stuff. The Church’s beauty isn’t there just because it’s nice. The beauty is the very breath of God in our lives.
When God became flesh he chose to save us in the flesh.
God heals us in our worship. That’s why it’s so important for us to enter into the worship reverently. We need to whisper during the service or in the nursery, lovingly and sensitively, striving to be still and in that stillness soak in God’s beauty. Something holy is happening. When two or more are gathered in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament we are bathed in God’s life-changing grace.
And God heals us in the community. The minute we’ve distanced ourselves from parish life we’ve become that lamb who’s strayed from the fold. When we distance ourselves from our brother and sister in Christ, we’ve distanced ourselves from God. If you want an encounter with God, look into your brother’s eyes, for that is where God meets us. We are saved in family. Paul calls us continually to avoid divisions and to encourage one another. He writes, “So that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another” (1 Corinthians 12:25). “Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have made a habit, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25). “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ” (I Corinthians 12:12).
This is the Church.
This is incarnational Christianity. It isn’t gnostic. It isn’t aloof. Christianity isn’t spirituality. Christianity is life. God is flesh and saves us in the flesh.
But this is all summed up in the simple way that a child seeks a kiss. When my daughter Eva hurt herself she didn’t need mere spiritual comfort. She needed a real connection with her Papa. That’s why we need the Church, for it is in the Church, the Body of Christ, that we find that healing touch from our Lord and Savior.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.