The Gospel story today features another one of those healing miracles performed by our Lord. This time, we are told, he heals a deaf man with a speech impediment. Nothing exciting there. Our Lord has performed more dramatic miracles–like the exorcism of a legion of demons or the raising of Lazarus from the dead.
Yet this one isn’t really just “another” healing miracle. What makes it different is what Jesus does in order to perform the healing. In other miracles, all Jesus does is to say the word, as he does in his exorcisms, or to touch the sick person. In at least one instance, Jesus does absolutely nothing: A woman with internal bleeding touches the hem of his garment, and she is immediately healed!
In this particular healing, however, Jesus seems to have worked harder. We are told that he takes the man away from the crowd–something he rarely does in his other very public miracles–inserts his fingers into the deaf man’s ears, touches his saliva (!) to the man’s tongue, and groans (!) in his prayers before saying, “Be opened!” (“Ephphatha!”). Only then is the man healed: His ears are opened and he begins to speak clearly.
The impression one gets is that Jesus actually has a hard time healing this deaf and mute man. Which is a strange thing when you think about it because compared to exorcising a legion of demons and raising someone from the dead, this surely must be a much easier miracle to perform! So this healing story is a quite an intriguing case.
We could focus on the alleged healing properties of saliva, but perhaps the reason has more to do with Jesus’ desire for the man to understand what he is about to perform. Since the man is deaf, he will not hear or understand Jesus’ mere word or touch. By going through the elaborate motions of inserting his fingers into the man’s ears and touching his tongue with spittle, he is very clearly demonstrating to the man what he is about to do.
This tells us that for Jesus, it is important that we know what he is doing, and that in response, we place our faith in him. Jesus’ miracles are not performed unilaterally; it always seems to require our acceptance of his healing offer and our faith in him. Recall that the Gospels tell us that it is in when people do not have enough faith that he is unable to perform his miracles.
“What about Lazarus?” you may object. How can a dead man respond to Jesus’ invitation to rise from the dead. That is a good question, but I believe that even Lazarus has also been given the chance to make a choice: Upon hearing the Lord summoning him, the decision whether or not to turn back to the land of the living.
This tells us a lot about God’s action in our lives. It is never one-way. While God’s healing action is absolutely necessary, it is not enough. It seems that the Lord can indeed perform his miracles in our lives if and only if we open ourselves to it and–strange as it may sound–grant him the permission to heal us.
One question to ask ourselves today is: What healing do I need from the Lord? And what am I doing to create the much-needed space for his healing power to do its work?