I’ve always been fascinated by this one little line in the text. It reads, “and looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘be opened.’” Let’s set the stage for Jesus’ words and actions, particularly this little phrase, “he sighed”.
So Jesus is in an area called the Decapolis. This was a area of 10 cities that were right on the edge of Galilee. There was a mixture there of Jews, Samaritans, Syrians, and others. It was eclectic, strange, and foreign to just about everybody. So imagine if you can being in a land where you are pretty much a foreigner, but also deaf and basically mute. You can’t hear, and because you can’t hear, you can’t talk. Add to that the fact that many people would consider you cursed by God because of your illnesses.
That’s a lot, isn’t it? But it is not so far from our day. Every day we divide pe
ople into so many categories. The “haves” and the “have nots”. The beautiful people and everyone else. The givers and the non-givers. With children and without children. Married and unmarried. Good people and not-so-good people. We use so many different ways to judge the people around us, and as often as not, we do it so that we look better than they, and it gives us a sense of superiority over them.
So that’s this man’s life. He is alone, deaf, mute, but not friendless. Despite all of his problems, someone cared enough about him to bring him to Jesus. They beg Jesus to heal him of his infirmities. Now for most people, if you had an infirmity and you were asking someone else for help, or someone else was asking for you, the last thing you would want is for all this to happen in front of a big group of people. So Jesus first of all takes him away from the crowd. He gets the man alone. Jesus then does something that to our eyes frankly is pretty gross. Jesus puts His fingers into the mans ears, spits and then touches the man’s tongue. Ewww. Obviously, Jesus didn’t know anything about germs. But there He is. Jesus shows the man in a very physical, real way that He knows what’s wrong.
This is how God works, dearly beloved. First of all He comes down to your level. He gets into the germy garbage of your life, wades in without fear, and sees what is wrong. How comforting is that! God isn’t out there somewhere, ticking your problems off on a clipboard. No, He is right here, in your midst. The theologians would call that something like “incarnational,” and for us we would say that Jesus knows our every weakness.
So what does our Lord do next? The next thing He does is one of the most interesting and oddest things of the whole story. Next He looks up to heaven and sighs. What could be more human than a sigh? A sigh can show sympathy, exasperation, self-pity, exhaustion, nearly the whole gambit of the human life. All in one little mostly iunaudible expression. And another thing that is wonderful about a sigh. You can see it. You know when someone is sighing. And so did this deaf-mute man.
So what was Jesus sighing about? Was He sighing because things were so messed up that this man need Him so badly? Was He sighing because the problems never seem to end? Was He sighing to show the man that He understands what’s going on? Frankly, we don’t know what Jesus meant in His sigh. But by using that most human of expressions, Jesus binds Himself to you and me as the God in the dirt and spit and germy garbage of your life.
It doesn’t end there, though. Next our Lord, the Word made Flesh uses His Word to change everything for our man here today. Ephphatha, which is Aramaic for “be opened.” Jesus talks to the mans ears, coaxing sound into them by His Word. He doesn’t blast away, yelling in the man’s ears so that He hears. No, Jesus Word does the work. He doesn’t need to yell or get attention. He is simply doing what He does, bringing life and hope where there was none.
Jesus is still opening ears by His Word. Every time His Word goes forth, in preaching, in Holy Baptism, in the words of Holy Absolution, and in His Word made flesh in the Sacrament of the Altar, God is coaxing life out of you where there was none. God is at work opening your ears so that you may hear of His great and mighty promises.
St. Paul teaches us that faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). Listen to God’s words of promise for you this day. God is at work in you, creating faith, giving you hope, creating new life. Hear His Word, trust His promises, receive His Son at the Table. Jesus has done all things well, and He does it all for you.
Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.