In the Gospel of Mark (7:37), the Evangelist reports the reaction of the people after Jesus had cured the deaf and dumb man from the pagan territory nearby the Province of Galilee. They said: "He has done everything well, he makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak!" We recall how in Luke 4:18-19 Jesus declared his identity and mission in the world with the passage of Isaiah 61:1-2 which says: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives, new sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…" To these words of Isaiah, he added a Jubilee declaration by concluding that he had come "to proclaim a year of favour from our God."
It was the same prophet Isaiah, who announced to the despairing people of Israel during their period of humiliation in exile: "Say to all faint hearts, Courage! Do not be afraid. Look your God is coming, vengeance is coming, the retribution of God; he is coming to save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed, then the lame shall leap like a deer and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy; for water gushes in the desert, streams in the wasteland, the scorched earth becomes a lake, the parched land springs of water" (Isaiah 35:4-7). These are healing and restoration miracles that Isaiah envisions will accompany the return from exile, but also they are a prediction of Jesus' messianic healing: When the Messiah comes, the prophet proclaims, the deaf shall hear, and the dumb shall speak!
Subsequent events in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus demonstrate that he is indeed the fulfilment of these prophecies of Isaiah. He came as a herald of good news, with the jubilee message of repentance, forgiveness, restoration and reconciliation for alienated humanity. He came to wipe away the tears of those who cry, to comfort those who mourn, to bring joy to those who sorrow, to give rest to those who have laboured and are over-burdened. He came as physician to heal those who are sick. With him there are no incurable diseases. Even the man born blind can have his sight back, and Lazarus who had been in the tomb for four days can be brought back to life.
Jesus came as the Bread of life to satisfy the profound hunger of the human heart. He came as the Water of life to satisfy all that thirst for meaning and for fulfilment. He came, anointed with the power of the Spirit, and fully equipped to engage and conquer the forces of darkness that have held down the entire human society and prevented men and women from reaching out beyond themselves. Jesus came to confront and dislodge the principalities and powers whose forces diminish the human person on the physical, moral, spiritual, emotional, and psychological levels, causing alienation from God and neighbour, and unleashing upon the human society hatred, resentment, vengeance, violence and war.
Jesus came to remove all the barriers and obstacles on our way to wholesome human existence on the individual and community levels. He came to take away sin the greatest obstacle on the way of the human person. He came to take away sicknesses and diseases, which debilitate and humiliate the human person. He came to cure blindness, deafness, dumbness and leprosy, not only on the physical level, but more importantly on the spiritual and moral levels.
By virtue of sin and the consequent alienation from God and neighbour, human persons are largely blind, deaf, dumb and leprous. They can neither see clearly nor communicate effectively. And because of their leprous state, they cannot mix well. In this pathological state of human beings, they are unable to recognise God their Creator, nor are they able to appreciate the gift of their neighbour. Human beings in their natural state have eyes but cannot see, they have ears but cannot hear, they have mouths but cannot speak. Locked up as they are in the cold and dark prison of their blindness, deafness and dumbness, and isolated by leprosy, they settle for a life of selfishness and greed, a life of violence and war, and a life of inordinate pleasure and power.
Fallen men and women are truly plagued by multiple sicknesses, and in this sorry state, human beings are unable to accept the equal dignity of all human beings before God. So they make destructive distinctions between one race or tribe and another, and between one class of people and the other. They see some people as superior and others as inferior. They treat some people with honour and others with disdain. But Jesus came to open the doors for those locked up in the prison of racism, ethnicism, classism and sexism. He came to set human beings free from the prison of their cultural particularism, unlocking the doors to the hearts of those who had no place for strangers.
In the story of the cure of the deaf and dumb man of Mark 7:31-37, Jesus took the man apart, away from the crowd, first to give him individual attention, but also to do something transcendent, to engage in a mystery - the mystery of healing not only the body of a man, but of restoring his original splendour and glory which he had lost to sin. When he was brought to Jesus, the man was totally helpless, unable to do anything for himself. He brought nothing to Jesus except his brokenness. He had ears but could not hear, and mouth but could not speak. Jesus took the man apart as it were to re-create him, to pull down the walls around him, to break the chains that held him captive, and to open up new possibilities for him. After sighing to heaven, after praying, he touched the man's ears and his tongue. He commanded: "ephphata" - Be opened again! And the man could hear again. He could speak again. He was re-created anew by the profound touch of Christ the Messiah.
In the simple gesture of touch the deaf and dumb man must have experienced the tender love of Jesus, which is nevertheless charged with creative power, and he responded by hearing and speaking. The deaf and dumb man responded to the commanding Word of Jesus, just as at the dawn of creation the formless void responded when God said: "Let there be light," and there was light.
Many human beings today remain locked up in the narrow universe of their customs and traditions. Many people remain imprisoned in the superficial understanding of their petting particular cultures. But in Jesus Christ a new creation is taking place. Through Christ new men and women are supposed to emerge - new men and women who know how to listen to God and to their neighbour; new men and women who are able to communicate with God and with their neighbour. In making the deaf hear and the dumb speak, Jesus breaks the communication barriers that were in place. In making the blind see, the deaf hear and the dumb speak, Jesus builds bridges across the rivers of class, sex, ethnicity and religion.