Hopelessly Devoted: Mark Chapter Seven Verses Thirty-One to Thirty-Six

Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of […]

Larry Parsley / 11.26.18

Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.

After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it.

Some scholars call Jesus’ strange miracle in Mark 7 a “prophetic miracle.” On a biological level, Jesus gets awkwardly close to a man who can neither hear nor speak. In one of the more unsanitary passages you will ever find in the gospels, Jesus sticks his fingers into the man’s ears and rubs his own spit on the man’s tongue. And then, looking up to heaven with a “deep sigh,” Jesus cries out in his native Aramaic tongue “Ephphatha!” —“Be opened!” — and the man’s ears are opened and his tongue is loosened. The placement of this miracle near the center of the gospel suggests that what Jesus did physically for this man he would do spiritually for his disciples — to open their ears to the love story of the gospel.

Alice Munro titled one of her better-known stories (later turned into a Kristin Wiig movie) after a children’s rhyme used to decipher a girl’s romantic destiny: “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage.” You add up the uncommon letters in the names of a boy and girl, then count off to figure out whether the two will hate one another, marry one another, or fall somewhere in between.

The matronly Johanna’s romantic prospects seem dim as the story opens. She is “a woman with a high, freckled forehead and a frizz of reddish hair” and teeth “crowded to the front of her mouth as if they were ready for an argument.” According to one cynical observer, Johanna lacked the looks and manners of the town’s “core people,” so he was unsurprised she was unmarried. Thus the reader is taken aback when Johanna steps into a dress shop to purchase a wedding dress.

The backstory goes something like this. Johanna, a nanny in postwar Ontario, cares for a teenaged girl named Sabitha. Sabitha’s mom is dead and her father, a bit of a rogue, lives in another town. Johanna slips cordial letters in with Sabitha’s letters to her father, but one day Sabitha and her friend Edith intercept the correspondence. The two girls hatch a plan to compose a series of love letters from her dad back to Johanna. Johanna, smitten by the fabricated love letters, purchases and packs her wedding dress and travels by railroad to Ken’s tiny rural town. Ken, who knows nothing of the ruse or Johanna’s visit, is actually lying very sick in bed, much too sick to wonder why Johanna arrived out of the blue. Johanna does what she does best, nursing Ken back to health and returning domestic and financial chaos to good order. Apparently Ken is drawn to this rescuing angel, and the story concludes with the news that Johanna and Ken have married and have a baby boy named Omar. Edith, no longer friends with Sabitha, is now left to contemplate what their cruel joke has wrought: “For where, on the list of things she planned to achieve in her life, was there any mention of her being responsible for the existence on earth of a person named Omar?

A literary artist like Munro can take dishonest words written with cruel intent and use them to give birth to love and a new family. But what can the Divine Artist do with ears newly opened to hear his unfeigned love?