The biblical passage: Mark 7, 31-37
And again, departing from the borders of Tyre and Sidon, he came to the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the borders of Decapolis. And they bring to him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him. And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith to him, Effatha, that is, Be opened. And immediately his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke 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 were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well; he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.
Isn’t it a miracle that every morning we can open our eyes and during the day we have many opportunities to look in the eyes of other people? Isn’t it a miracle that long before the sunrise we can listen to birds singing and during the day we can enjoy many uplifting conversations? Isn’t it a miracle that every day we can exchange the customary greeting “Good morning” with other people? Someone might say that such things may be taken for granted, that there is no point in contemplating them, that is the way things happen, that’s all there is to it. And yet: without these seemingly little and allegedly ordinary things, life would be unbearable! Likewise, we could not function well and comfortably without the majority of our senses: smell, touch, sight, hearing and taste, let alone without language by means of which we communicate with other people, express our emotions and thoughts. Owing to these senses and the ability to speak we remain in contact with the world we inhabit.
Everybody who has ever suffered from some impairment of senses (for instance of sight or hearing) knows how important our senses are. Sometimes problems with just one of them may prevent us from following certain professions. One may easily envisage the feelings of people who have to give up the profession they have until now treated as their calling. Frederick Nietzsche in a comparable situation said that “life becomes then a deadly desert: dumb and cold.” How marvelous must be the experience of having recovered the sense of hearing or sight which was impaired. Sometimes you can hear from people who had problems with their sight or hearing that, having recovered their senses in the process of medical treatment, they feel as if they were newly born. They can resume their former interests and occupations, enjoy life anew. With one difference, though, for usually they can truly appreciate the value of health and take proper care of themselves. They also attach greater value to their time and know how best to organize it.
Today’s biblical passage from the Gospel of Mark presents an almost identical situation. The story is very brief and particular. Jesus heals a man who was dumb and deaf, but who had, however, friends standing by his side, helping him, interceding on his behalf, asking all around for help. If this sick man had no friends, he would most probably never manage to reach Jesus. Who knows, he might even lose the chance to get out of his predicament.
Martin Luther, in his sermon from 1938 devoted to the very biblical passage we are considering today, made a very apt remark on the question of deficiency in sight and hearing: the world is flooded with garrulousness and at the same time it is deaf, the Reformer said. Everything that lives and exists in the world bears witness to God’s goodness, to which we respond with thanksgiving, praising the Creator. So we make use of language, when filled with gratitude we talk to God. This encounter with God should give rise to heartfelt care for other people, our neighbours, our closest environment as well as the world in all its complexity. Martin Luther claimed that this is God’s creation whom we owe our love, love that we can render in service.
Both Martin Luther and ourselves today know very well that sometimes we fail to express gratitude to our Creator. Why? Among others, because we do not treat the world as an undeserved gift from God. People do not receive the world as a promised and God-given creation.
Apparently Jesus refuses to accept this situation. That is why He is active in the world in a very tangible way. Just as God himself, creating the world, must have taken the world “in His own hands,” so Jesus all alone “put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith to him, Effatha, that is, Be opened.” In this unusual way Jesus helped the wretched man, opening for him new perspectives of life. As Jesus helped the deaf and dumb man, so He helps us – He has the power to do so. When we are burdened with a heavy load, Jesus looks after us and shares our suffering. He is present in our suffering also when people turn their backs to us, refuse to talk, ignoring our signals.
That this is possible is demonstrated by the scene in which Jesus summons the deaf and dumb man to open himself: “And immediately his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plain.” Today Jesus has the very same message to communicate to us. He wants us to become open to Him, to God Himself and to our neighbours. It is important for Him that we should understand that God out of His own initiative strives to establish existential and creative contact with us – an encounter which is constructive, which fills our life again and again with new life and energy, which lets us perceive in new light both our life and our neighbours. That is why God became a man – Jesus Christ – who experienced in His life everything, including death and resurrection. As such, He wants to accompany us in our life, with all its problems, turbulence, good and bad sides. Amen.
Rev. Dr Dariusz Chwastek, translated by Dr Joanna Teske