Today the Church reflects upon an episode in St. Mark’s gospel when Jesus miraculously gives a deaf and mute man the ability to hear and speak. We ordinarily speak of the episode as, “Jesus heals a deaf man.” But this is strange. First of all, why “heal” a man of being deaf? Many today, including scholars working in Deaf theology, do not wish to be “healed” of being deaf, any more than they wish to be “healed” of being female or “healed” of being smart.
And the episode is strange on another count, as well. Why “heal” this man and no one else? Jesus does not “heal” all the deaf people whom he meets. He heals this one. For everyone whom Jesus heals, there are any number whom he does not heal. One explanation may lie in His words in Luke 4: “Many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine in the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath in the land of Sidon”—that is, outside Israel. Christ here is making a point about salvation being extended by God beyond God’s own Chosen People, even to the gentiles. Likewise, “there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed but only Naaman the Syrian.” These miraculous healings opened new communities to God’s salvation and opened Israel to new communities. They de-provincialized the kingdom of God.
St. Mark does not say Christ “healed” the deaf man, but rather that he made him to hear and speak. This would have enabled the man to liaise between the deaf and hearing communities more effectively, to help them understand each other (not to homogenize them). This is one reason why Gallaudet University, a great center of Deaf learning, has chosen this verse of Mark as its school motto: “Ephphatha,” “let it be opened.” This Lent, let us be opened; let us learn from each other in Christ’s Church.
— Ashley Faulkner