Hearing and Speaking
Recently I had the occasion to encounter one of my favorite healing stories in the New Testament. It is the healing of a man who could not hear and did not speak very well. It is not the first time I had encountered the healing story, but I do think this time some new insight came my way. I am always grateful when old things keep teaching me new things.
The healing story comes from the seventh chapter of Mark’s gospel. Jesus is ministering in the northern part of Palestine. Hence, he is a long way from the religious center of Jerusalem. In fact, the previous story narrates how Jesus heals the daughter of a Gentile woman, based on the Syrophoenician woman’s faith. Then we are told “they” brought a deaf man to Jesus. We are not told who “they” are, but we can assume they were some of the people who followed Jesus. In light of some of his ministry and earlier healing events, perhaps Jesus was attracting some more attention. And surely, he would be attracting some controversy since he was Jewish and was effecting a healing ministry in the Gentile territory.
The deaf man, who was brought to Jesus, also had a speech problem. The ones who brought the man to Jesus asked Jesus to heal the guy. Jesus withdrew to a private place, accompanied by the deaf man. Jesus puts his fingers in the guy’s ears and spit on the guy’s tongue. Jesus then prayed that the guy be healed. And we are told the man could hear and now could speak plainly. On its own, this is an entertaining story. But it also is more than entertainment.
Let’s make a bold assumption. Let’s assume the deaf man who does not speak plainly is us---you and me. “That can’t be,” we want to complain. I hear quite well and I speak very well. This is true at the literal level. But at the spiritual level, perhaps I am deaf and a poor speaker! Maybe I need to be healed.
I heard some comments from a friend of mine who put me on the right interpretive track. The healing story is not about literal hearing. It is about hearing the truth of the spiritual life. Our culture seldom speaks about this kind of truth. Just think about the kind of “truths” given to us through the media---especially through commercials on tv and over the internet! We don’t hear truth; we hear junk.
And if this is all of what we hear, then this is the kind of stuff we also speak. We can only speak what we hear. If I hear nonsense, I speak nonsense. I need to be healed. I need my ears to be opened and my tongue to be touched. And if I am “normal,” then this seems like nonsense. “Normal” people see no need of healing!
I am willing to allow that I need to be healed. But where? And how? Is Jesus going to show up and stick his fingers into my ears and spit on my tongue? I doubt that this literally will happen. But again, I don’t need a literal healing. I am ok at the literal level: I hear fine and speak well. I need spiritual healing.
To be healed spiritually, I need something spiritual stuck into my ears. It is not the cultural garbage to which I am routinely exposed. I want to be open to spiritual truths and have those truths stuck into my ears. A healing story, like the one we are giving focus, is one such spiritual truth. And actually the Bible contains quite a number of glimpses of truth. I personally also find truthful hints in the literature and stories from other major religious traditions. I also find some deep truths in some of the spiritual luminaries from the Christian tradition---people like Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Calvin, Mother Teresa and a host of others.
Most of these people come to me without commercial. In many cases they are counter-cultural. They speak a language that is contrarian to much of my culture. They usually are not “selling” anything. They do not want anything from me. Instead they want something for me. What they want for me is to hear clearly and to speak plainly.
In fact, what they want for me is to be healed and to be whole. In some traditions this would be called “salvation.” I am ok with that language, but it can also be misheard and understood. I prefer the language of healing and wholeness.
I probably have lived life while being deaf to the possibility of wholeness. And if I am broken, more than likely I don’t speak plainly. The good news is I heard a story about a deaf man who could not speak plainly. He was touched and healed. Then he was able to walk into the world and the rest of his life in a completely new way.