Home      Back to Trinity 12




The Healing of the One Deaf and Dumb.
by Richard Chenevix Trench
Archbishop of Dublin
Chapter 24 in The Miracles of our Lord, 1846.
Mark vii. 31-37.
St. Matthew tells us in general terms that when the Lord had returned from those coast of Tyre and Sidon unto the sea of Galilee, ‘great multitudes came unto Him, having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and cast them down at Jesus’ feet, and He healed them’ (xv. 30).  Out of this number of cures Mark selects one to relate more in detail, and this, no doubt, because it was signalized by some circumstances not usual in other like cases of healing.  ‘They bring unto Him one that was deaf and had an impediment in his speech,’ one who, if he was not altogether dumb, was yet incapable of making any articulate sounds.  His case differs, apparently, from that of the dumb man mentioned in Matt. ix.32; for while that man’s evil is traced up distinctly and directly to a spiritual source, nothing of the kind is intimated here, nor are we, as Theophylact suggests, to presume such.  Him his friends now brought to the great Healer, ‘and they beseech Him to put His hand upon him.’  But it is not exactly in this way that He will heal him.

It has already been observed that there must lie a deep meaning in all the variations which mark the different healings of different sick and afflicted, a wisdom of God ordering all the circumstances of each particular cure.  Were we acquainted as accurately as He, who ‘knew what was in man,’ with the spiritual condition of each who was brought within the circle of His grace, we should then understand why one was healed in the crowd, another led out of the city ere the work of restoration was commenced; why for one a word effected a cure, for another a touch, while a third was sent to wash in the pool of Siloam ere ‘he came seeing;’ why for this one the process of restoration was instantaneous, while another saw at first ‘men as trees, walking.’  We are not for an instant to suppose in cures gradually accomplished any restraint on the power of the Lord, save such as He willingly imposed on Himself,--and this, doubtless, in each case having reference to, and being explicable by, the moral and spiritual state of the person who was passing under His hands.  It is true that our ignorance prevents us from at once and in every case discerning ‘the manifold wisdom’ which ordered each of His proceedings, but we are not less sure that this wisdom ordered them all.

On the present occasion He first ‘took him aside from the multitude,’ whom He would heal; compare Mark viii. 23: “He took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town.’  But with what intent does He isolate him thus?  The Greek Fathers generally reply, for the avoiding of all show and ostentation.  But this cannot be, since of all the miracles which He did, we have only two in which any such withdrawal is recorded.  Shall we say that there was show and ostentation in all the others?  It is not much better to answer, with Calvin, that He might pray with greater freedom.  He, whose life was altogether prayer, needed not solitude for this.  His purpose was, rather, that the man apart from the tumult and interruptions of the crowd, in solitude and silence, might be more receptive of deep and lasting impressions; even as the same Lord does now oftentimes lead a soul apart, sets it in the solitude of a sick chamber, or in loneliness of spirit, or takes away from it earthly companions and friends, when He would speak with it, and heal it.  He takes it aside, as He took this deaf and dumb out of the multitude, that in the hush of the world’s din it may listen to Him; as on a greater scale He took His elect people aside into the wilderness, when He would first open their spiritual ear, and deliver unto them His law.

Having this done, Christ ‘put His fingers into his ears, and He spit and touched his tongue.’  These are symbolic actions, which it is easy to see why He should have employed in the case of one afflicted as this man was;--almost all other avenues of communication, save those of sight and feeling, were of necessity closed.  Christ by these signs would awake his faith, and stir up in him the lively expectation of a blessing.  The fingers are put into the ears as to bore them, to pierce through the obstacles which hindered sounds from reaching the seat of hearing.  This was the fountain-evil; he did not speak plainly, because he did not hear; this defect, therefore, is first removed.  Then, as often through excessive dryness the tongue cleaves to the roof of the mouth, the Lord gives here, in what next He does, the sign of the removal of this evil, of the unloosing of the tongue.  And, at the same time, the healing virtue He shows to reside in His own body; He looks not for it from any other quarter; but with the moisture of His own mouth upon His finger touched the tongue which He would release from the bands which held it fast (cf. John ix. 6).  It is not for its medicinal virtue that use is made of this, but as the apt symbol of a power residing in, and going forth from, His body.  

St. Mark, abounding as he does in graphic touches, reproducing before our eyes each scene which he narrates, tells us of the Lord, how this doing, ‘and looking up to heaven, He sighed.’  He has further preserved for us the very word which He spake, in the very language in which he spake it; He ‘saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened.’  The ‘looking up to heaven’ was a claiming of the divine help; or rather, since the fulness of divine power abode permanently in Him, and not by fitful visitation, as in others, an acknowledgement of His oneness with the Father, and that He did no other things save those which He saw the Father do (cf. Matt. xiv. 19; John xi. 41, 42).  Some explain the words, ‘He sighed,’ or ‘He groaned,’ which are the words in the Rhemish Version, as the deep voice of prayer in which He was at the moment engaged; but rather, we suppose, that this poor helpless creature now brought before Him, this living proof of the wreck which sin had brought about, of the malice of the devil in deforming the fair features of God’s original creation, then wrung that groan from His heart.  He that always felt, was yet now in His human soul touched with a liveliest sense of the miseries of the race of man.  Thus on another still greater occasion ‘He groaned in the spirit and was troubled’ (John xi. 33), with a trouble which had, in like manner, its source in the thought of the desolation which sin and death had effected.  As there the mourning hearts which were before Him were but a sampler of the mourners of all times and all places, so was this poor man of all the variously afflicted and greatly suffering children of Adam.  In the preservation of the actual Aramaic ‘Ephphatha,’ which Christ spoke, as in the ‘Talithi cumi’ of Mark v. 14, we recognize the narrative of an eye and ear-witness.  It is quite in this Evangelist’s manner to give the actual words which Christ used, but adding in each case their interpretation (iii. 17; v. 41; vii. 11; xiv. 36; xv. 34; cf. x. 46; xv. 22).  He derived, no doubt, his account from St. Peter, on whose memory the words of power, which opened the ears, and loosed the tongue, and raised the dead, had indelibly impressed themselves.  

The injunction, ‘He charged them that they should tell no man,’ implies that the friends of this afflicted man had accompanied or followed Jesus out of the crowd, and having been witnesses of the cure, were now included with him in the same command that they should not divulge what had been done.  On the reasons which induced the Lord so often to give this charge of silence something has been said already.  On this, as on other occasions (see Matt. ix. 31; Mark i. 44-45), the charge is nothing regarded by those on whom it is laid; ‘the more He charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it.’  The exclamation in which men’s surprise and admiration finds utterance, ‘He hath done all things well,’ reminds us of the words of the first creation (Gen. i. 31), upon which we are thus not unsuitably thrown back, for Christ’s work is in the highest sense ‘a new creation.’  The concluding notice, ‘They glorified the God of Israel,’ implies that many of those present were heathens, as we should naturally expect in that half-hellenized region of Decapolis, where this miracle was wrought, and that these, beholding the mighty works which were done, confessed that the God who had chosen Israel for His own possession was above all gods.