With curly black hair decorated with ribbons and bows, the five-year-old Elizabeth was shy and sweet, playful, and practically-perfect. She was an only-child, and her protective and loving parents had cautiously entrusted her into our care. In other words, we were in an elite group permitted to baby-sit.
Elizabeth joyfully bounded into our lives and left indelible memories. A couple of years later, when our youngest was born, we chose for her the perfect name. Elizabeth.
One thing made her different from our children. Elizabeth was deaf. Profoundly deaf.
Carla quickly became proficient in Elizabeth’s language. With her hands and finger swishing this way and that, Carla could carry on quite a conversation with our bright little friend. I, on the other hand, never mastered the language. I could say hi. I could also say yes and no. And, with much effort, I learned one complete sentence. I could say, rather slowly, “You are a funny chicken!” Later I learned to say, “You are a funny duck.” That’s all.
Jesus knew sign language too. Mark recorded the story.
“They brought to him a deaf man who had difficulty speaking and begged Jesus to lay his hand on him. So he took him away from the crowd in private. After putting his fingers in the man’s ears and spitting, he touched his tongue. Looking up to heaven, he sighed deeply and said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ (that is, ‘Be opened!’). Immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was loosened, and he began to speak clearly” (Mark 7:32-35)
Maybe Jesus was busy teaching when the small group arrived with their reluctant and shy friend in tow. I can imagine that the dirty beggar’s head and shoulders drooped, and his eyes darted fearfully. He couldn’t hear and his speech was almost unintelligible. He mostly grunted and pointed.
His friends had heard about Jesus. In fact, “large crowds came to (Jesus), including the lame, the blind, the crippled, those unable to speak, and many others. They put them at his feet, and he healed them. So the crowd was amazed when they saw those unable to speak talking, the crippled restored, the lame walking, and the blind seeing, and they gave glory to the God of Israel” (Matthew 15:30-31).
Jesus could have said, “be healed!” That would have finished the matter. Instead, Jesus led the deaf man away from the crowd to a quiet, private corner. Apparently, Jesus didn’t want to make the man a spectacle or further embarrass him. Can you see Him? Jesus reached out and held his dirty hand, led him away, and stood toe to toe with him. Face to face. Eye to eye.
With a gentle touch Jesus reached up and put His finger to the man’s ear. In sign language that meant, “I’m going to fix your ears. I’m going to restore your hearing.” Then Jesus spit like one might if he was trying to get rid of a bad taste. At the same time, Jesus touched the man’s lips. That was sign language for, “You’re not going to have to sputter and grunt any more, because I’m going to give you the ability to speak properly.” Lastly, Jesus looked up to heaven, showing the deaf man that his healing was a gift from above. The first words the man ever heard were, “Be opened!”
The crowds “were extremely astonished and said, ‘He has done everything well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak’ ” (Mark 7:37).
All Scripture quotations, except as otherwise noted, are from
Holman Bible Publishers’ Christian Standard Bible.