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Open your ears to open your heart

Today’s gospel story is set in the Decapolis (v. 31), the region where Jesus drove from a possessed person a legion of demons that then entered the pigs, and then rushed down into the sea (Mark 5:1). We are therefore in a pagan land and this geographic location, placed deliberately by the evangelist to show that it has a definite theological significance.

 The sick to be healed is a deaf-mute, or a stuttering deaf, as in the original text. For Isaiah, the stuttering deaf was the people of Israel. 

However, the patient who is presented to Jesus is a pagan. It is the condition of every person who has not yet met Christ or one who deliberately closes his ears and does not allow the word of salvation to penetrate his heart.

 The word of Christ opens the ears and loosens the tongue even in our families, in the Christian communities, in social settings where often more than communicating, we attack others because we are unable to listen to their reasons and needs.

 In this episode Jesus adapts the usual gestures of the healers of his time while this miracle takes place, but, as we shall see, he gives a new meaning to these gestures. Many details of the miracle take on a symbolic meaning and they are explicit references to the rite of baptism. 

To begin with, the deaf and dumb does not present himself to Jesus alone, but is accompanied by some people. To come to Christ and hear from him the word that heals, one must be accompanied by someone, who has already known the Master, a godfather or mother.

The miracle takes place away from the crowd. Jesus does not want them to spread the news that he is the Messiah. In Mark’s gospel, the secret imposed by Jesus on his identity is always recalled.

Until Easter the crowds are not able to figure out who he is. 

Before performing the miracle, “Jesus looks up at the sky and groans…” In ancient times the healers often made similar gestures. Performed by Jesus, these gestures become prayer. Only after having been inspired by the Spirit, the breath of God, we are able to communicate this life-giving power to those who are in the condition of death.

The act of “putting the fingers in the ears” (v. 33) is the same as is done in some rites of the sacrament of baptism. The minister touches the ear of the person to be baptised with the thumb and makes a prayer. The Christian is not only one who can hear the gospel, but it is also one who is qualified to preach the message he has heard.

To understand the gesture of “touching his tongue with spittle” (v. 33), it should be noted that, in the popular conception, the saliva was considered a kind of focussed breath, a materialisation of breath. Touching with his saliva, the tongue of the deaf-mute, Jesus therefore intended to communicate to him his breath, his Spirit. This is what happens in baptism.

Effatà is an Aramaic word, the language spoken by Jesus and it means Be opened! It is an invitation to open the doors of the heart and let Christ in and his gospel in his life.

The last part of the passage reports, in detail, the outcome of that healing intervention of Jesus and ends with a final chorus.

The crowd sings its joy, because the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled: God has made “the deaf hear” and “the mute speak” (Isaiah 35:5-6). This grateful cry is the profession of faith of the community. 

λ Father Fernando Armellini cmf


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