We should learn to minister to others around us with Jesus’ kind of intentional and purposeful compassion. We need to “speak the language” of our hearers so they will know the love of Christ and most effectively hear his word. Even preachers can learn from the account a little something more of how to minister to congregations by seeing when to make note of the original language in a sermon, and by implication, when to stick to the language of the immediate audience.
Why did Mark, the gospel writer, use the Aramaic word “Ephphatha” in Mark 7:34? Just sounding out the word is an exercise in oral calisthenics. He did it to “speak the language” of his hearers so they would observe and know the love of Christ and most effectively hear his word.
The funny thing is, “Ephphatha,” is an Aramaic word; Aramaic wasn’t the language of Mark’s readers. That’s why he immediately translated the word meaning “be opened” into Greek as he recounted Jesus’ Aramaic declaration to the deaf mute. So how was the Aramaic word going to help Mark’s Greek-speaking audience? How do we know he wasn’t simply acting like a young preacher seeking to convince his audience that he really knew the original language of the event?
Like Jesus in the original story itself, Mark knew what would communicate most effectively to his intended audience. That included his original audience and even us today.
To understand more clearly, let’s revisit this gem of a story recorded in Mark 7:31-37 that features the healing power of Jesus so compassionately exercised:
Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” (ESV)
Jesus had healed the Gerasene demoniac in this region earlier; the friends of this afflicted man likely knew of Jesus’ power from that miracle. Jesus stopped to meet their friend, and he took six actions that all demonstrated his empathy for the man. Observing each of these will help frame the context of the exclamation “Ephphatha!” Jesus didn’t just heal the man, he walked him through a process that communicated love, concern, and a desire for the man to know who Jesus is.
First, observe that Jesus took him aside from the crowd, so that he could have one-on-one interaction.