When the only sound you ever hear is the sound of your own voice, life is pretty self-oriented. It’s hard to get out of your own head. That’s the only place where you really feel at home; the only place where you are fully understood. At least that’s the way it used to be for me.
I used to hear many other sounds. I remember the sounds my mother and father used to make. They called me by name: Ephraim. I learned how to speak. They told me that I was a bright boy. I used to believe them.
Then there was the day of the rock slide out on the edge of town. I was only five years old. One of the big rocks hit my head as I was running away, and they told me I was knocked out for more than a day. After that, the only sound I could hear was the sound of my own speaking. I couldn’t really hear the sound of my speaking – just the vibrations that my speaking made inside my head. They sounded something like words used to sound to me. That’s the only way I was able to speak at all, but I suspect that I may have not sounded as good as I used to.
Funny how for those first 5 years of my life I talked and listened, listened and talked, and never paid any attention to how it all worked. For the next 20 years, I was never unaware of how speaking and hearing worked, or, better put, failed to work.
They told me when I was a small child that my name, Ephraim, means “fruitful.” I used to wonder what kind of fruit my life would bear. After I lost my hearing, I began to realize that like a barren fig tree, no one was going to want me. I just had nothing to offer. I had nothing that anyone wanted, because they didn’t know how to get it out of me.
Oh, I was fine to work. I was a hard worker, a good worker, a careful worker. But it was hard for me to receive directions of what work was to be done, and how it was to be done. So, other than the most basic working tasks, like a donkey could do, I wasn’t much use.
I cursed the day I lost my hearing. I cursed the day I lost my living.
Something about deaf people seems to just make other people angry. They feel like that if they yell loud enough I can somehow hear them. But yelling just makes their face distorted; I can’t hear them any better. And the effort seems to always make them angry. Blind people are given sympathy. People who have lost a hand or foot are given consideration. Deaf people are just shunned, because we are too frustrating, even though we look “normal.”
Then, one day I met Jonathan. [Meet Jonathan in earlier blog, “An Unexpected Encounter with Jesus.”] He came to town as a stranger one day. He seemed to gather a crowd of people wherever he went. He would talk about something and people would gather to listen. I could not hear what he said. But I was drawn to the crowds, nonetheless, because I had never seen anyone who was not a soldier or a ruler get people to come to him and listen to him. I wished I could know what he was talking about, for his stories seemed to make other people feel good.
On the second day Jonathan noticed me, standing there on the edge of the group which had gathered. He bent down and spoke quietly to someone, while never taking his eyes off me. He bent down, because he was such a big man. Then he came up to me and put a finger up to his lips, as though to silence me from talking. That made me smile. Then he put his big hands over his ears, as though he could not hear me. That made me laugh. Then he, too, laughed and gave me a big hug, like a lion would hold a cub: gently, but strongly.
He invited me to come to his home – or, at least, to the place where he was staying. I learned later that he did not have a home, but that he just wandered about from town to town in our Decapolis, telling his stories. But I get ahead of myself.
We had dinner together. He and I spoke and heard one another by making hand signs. He must have known deaf people before, because he seemed to be very comfortable in communicating like this. He signaled that he wanted me to come back to see him again on the next day – about the time the sun was highest in the sky. I nodded my assent.
The next day I met Jonathan in the center of town. He was standing in a crowd listening, much like people had stood in a crowd listening to him the day before. They were all listening to a short man, at least who seemed short compared to Jonathan. Jonathan saw me and motioned for me to come over. Then as I was walking toward him, he stepped forward into the center of the circle and leaned down to talk into the ear of the man who had been speaking.
They both smiled. Jonathan got down on one knee in front of the other man and again motioned me to come forward. The other man smiled, and put his hand on my shoulder. The this other man guided me out of the center of the circle, away from the crowd, his hand still on my shoulder.
He turned and looked straight at me. It looked to me like he said my name, “Ephraim.” I assumed Jonathan had given him my name. They told me later that this was not what he said. But I answered him, “Yes, my lord.” And then he put both hands on my shoulders and looked straight into my eyes and said that word again. This time I could see he said something other than my name. I don’t know what. But, after just a second or two, I realized that there was something new going on all around me. I could hear the crowd.
I could HEAR the crowd. The sound of their speaking was so very, very loud. I turned and looked at them. They were all looking at the man and at me and talking excitedly.
And then I turned my head back to stare at the man, who had said something I couldn’t hear, but after which I could hear everything. This time he DID say my name: “Ephraim, go bear fruit, but don’t tell anyone what just happened.” At least that’s what I think he said. There was so much noise pouring into my ears now, I had a hard time separating all of the sounds.
I said, “Thank you. Please tell me your name.”
He said, “Jesus.” And then he turned and was gone. He and Jonathan walked away from me.
I never saw him again, not Jesus anyway. But Jonathan and I have spent our time together ever since that day. We travel together, all around the Decapolis and beyond, telling people about Jesus, and how he changed both of our lives. I think that what we have done has indeed borne fruit, for there are many who have heard our stories and have gone to find out more about this wonderful man who said my name, and opened my life.
Jesus Cures a Deaf Man (Mark 7:31-37)
Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
(c) 2013 0218