My world was soundless. I could see clearly, and truth be told, I probably noticed more than most. The hearing world, however, gave me no audible cues but for the vibrations I could feel around me and in me. I tried in vain to communicate with my family and friends, but struggled to make myself understood. I can’t tell you what my speech sounded like, but I do know it was barely discernible save for those closest to me.
One day my world was split right open. My friends led me through a great crowd to a man who I recognised to be the source of all the activity around me. My friends spoke to him and motioned toward me. They wanted him to lay his hand on me so I could hear and speak. I’ll be honest, my expectations were low. Even if he could heal me, did I want him to? Did I really want to enter that world? I wasn’t sure how I felt about all of this.
Then the man led us away from the crowd. Once aside, he placed his hands on my head and plugged his fingers in my ears. I saw him spit, then he opened his mouth and poked out his tongue and gestured I do the same. Then with great care he touched a finger to my tongue. I saw him look upward and draw a lung-full of air. It surprised me how angry he looked in that moment. It was as if he deeply felt the very injustice I felt all my life. I could tell as he stood with me that he suffered. I found myself breathing in with him and I’ll never forget what happened when we breathed out –
His word burst open all that had been closed off to me. My tongue was loosened and suddenly my mouth began to form words. A lifelong mystery was solved – I heard my own voice! I heard everything, I understood everything; it was as if a mist had been cleared by a fresh breeze. People could hear me; I could make myself understood! Soon every region and language would know what that Aramaic word meant—“Be opened!”
Everyone gathered there was completely stunned by what had happened and began to talk about it excitedly. The man who had healed me instructed us not to tell anyone, but we couldn’t help ourselves and continued in our lively discussion. I heard one of his disciples saying to another, “All this is too much; what he has done is too marvellous! Who knows what wonders now fill the ears of those who were deaf? And who can say what will come out the mouths of those who were mute?”
Immediately afterward I sought out this disciple. His name was Peter. My first question to him was, “Who is he?” He told me that Jesus was the one who had healed me.
“Jesus,” I tried his name on my tongue for the first time.
Peter told us how he had begun his journey with Jesus on the shore of Lake Galilee. Then he began to tell us about all the work he and eleven others had been doing recently alongside Jesus, as his apostles and followers:
“It was after we had left Nazareth. As we went from village to village Jesus taught the people at every opportunity. The time came when he summoned the twelve of us. He divided us into pairs and gave each man and his companion a sacred task. He sent us with the blessing of his own hand and in advance gave us his own authority over evil spirits.
“I remember his instructions before we set off. He said, ‘By all means take a walking stick to lean on for the journey. But as for your other needs—bread, luggage and money for the road—you must learn to travel lightly. Yes, wear your sandals but not any extra clothes, for you have all you need. When you enter a town, stay in one house there until you take up your walking stick again and fall in step with your companion. Also, if you find that people do not accept you or want to hear what you have to say, simply lift each foot and tap it with your stick. This will indicate that they have not even offered you water to wash your feet. The dust will stick to your feet as you continue your journey. Be sure of this: the news of the kingdom of God will find both hospitable and inhospitable ears.’
“So that is what we did. We dispersed in every direction and spoke to people, telling them to turn away from their unbelief. We told them that their lives could express the belief that, ‘Surely God is here even though we were not aware of it and yet God has wanted us all along.’ Many people were delivered of evil spirits at our command. We also blessed numerous sick people—applying oil—and they were healed.
“King Herod Antipas heard about what we were doing because the name of Jesus was on everyone’s lips. The rumour was that John the Baptiser’s spirit had returned from the grave, explaining how the power to do miracles was now with this man Jesus. Others said emphatically, ‘He is Elijah.’ And yet more people thought they held the answer saying, ‘He is a prophet like one of God’s servants from ancient times.’ But when the news of our work reached the ears of the powerful Herod, he was frightened and said, ‘The man I beheaded has come back to haunt me!’
“For, some of John’s disciples had relayed the story of his death to us. When they first heard the news they had retrieved John’s body and laid it in a tomb. Long before this John had publicly spoken against the house of Herod. Herod had married his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias, and John had said, ‘That’s not right! It’s downright illegitimate!’ Well, from then on Herodias had it in for John and wouldn’t stop until this threat was silenced – with an altogether deadly silence. Because she was in the ear of King Herod she got her way. Herod gave in to her and had the so called troublemaker arrested, gagged and manhandled into a prison cell. However, Herodias would have to bide her time because her husband Herod was apprehensive about John. Perhaps he thought of the influence John had among the people or maybe fear took hold of him when he thought what might happen to him if John’s blood was on his hands. Initially Herod wanted to protect John and perhaps his own reputation. He would bring John out and listen to what he had to say. Even though the king was swayed by constant voices and waves of public opinion, when it came to John, even though he didn’t get the message, he was pleased with what he heard. Perhaps it soothed his troubled mind much like David’s harp did for King Saul long ago.
“Nevertheless, Herod would eventually fall on the sword of his own word. He would do what he never thought he would. It started out a momentous day. Herod put on a great feast in honour of his own birthday. Every official, military general, business leader, and ruler of Galilee was gathered with him. The high point of the proceedings was a dancer, the daughter of Herodias, who came in and captivated the whole audience. The king and all the guests were enchanted with her. The king gushed, ‘Ask for anything you want and it will be given to you – my word is law.’ Then, as if to impress his guests he added a promise, ‘Whatever you ask I will give you, without question – though it might be half of my kingdom, it will be done!’
“Well, the girl went straight out and found her mother and asked, ‘What do I ask for?’ Finally Herodias saw her opportunity to get rid of John. Herodias replied, ‘Ask for the head of John the Baptiser.’
“Without hesitation the girl hurried back to hall and presented her request before the king: ‘Give me the head of John the Baptiser – right here, on a platter!’
“At that moment the king appeared drained and frail. Clearly he was burdened by the consequences of his oaths and the dilemma of trying to save face in front of his guests. Trapped by his own words, he felt he was not able do anything except concede to the will of the girl. So in the midst of the party he sent an executioner with John’s death sentence. His word was carried out and John was beheaded right there in prison. The executioner brought his head back on a platter and presented it to the girl. She gave her prize to her mother before all the guests and the king. Is it any wonder Herod is now haunted by what was in his power to stop with a single word?”
When Peter ended his story I was shocked. I thought, “If this is what happened to John, whose word and what crowd could Jesus be at the mercy of one day?”
Peter continued telling us of all they had seen and heard alongside Jesus. I listened expectantly to every word, taking it all in. Peter went on,
“The twelve of us returned in our pairs. We gathered around Jesus and shared what we each had experienced and learnt. There were tales of the kinds of deeds that Jesus performed, as well as stories of people hearing our message, understanding it and taking it to heart.
“Then, Jesus said to us, ‘Come with me and we will make a place of solitude for ourselves. Come, let’s take a rest.’ He said this because all around us there was so much hustle and bustle that we could not even take a break to eat together.
“So that is what we did. Together we took a boat and headed away toward a secluded spot. From the boat I noticed that the crowd saw us leaving. Some of them followed the boat from the shore and ran to where we were going. Sure enough, they met us there and had increased in number as they had passed through the nearby towns. I watched how Jesus would respond to the large crowd as we landed. I remember how much concern and care he seemed to have for them. The people were attracted to him and he received them kind-heartedly. It was how a shepherd would approach wandering sheep whose needs had not been tended to for some time. So he began to teach them in order to feed their deep hunger.
“We had been there for some time when I realised my own hunger. Indeed, it was not long until the evening meal. Looking out over the crowd I realised they too would be getting hungry. We went to Jesus and said, ‘Teacher, this is an out of the way place and look at the time, with a word you could break up this crowd. They could go to other places hereabouts and buy themselves a meal.’
“I expected him to agree, but he didn’t. Instead he answered, ‘You give them something to eat.’
“Well, we were incredulous and said, ‘Eh? Even if a man were to save his wages from now until harvest it would still not be enough! What are you saying? Do you think we have that amount of money? Are you sending us away? Do you really expect us to buy bread to lug back to feed all these people?’
“He asked, ‘What do you have with you? There must be bread? Go and check.’
“When we had looked through our supplies we reported back, ‘We have five loaves of bread – oh, and these two fish.’
“Jesus then went to work; he directed us to arrange the people in groups. The crowd began to take shape into groups of hundred or sometimes more like fifty. What a sight it was to see thousands sitting all over the green hillside!
“Jesus held up a large basket containing the five loaves and two fish. Looking up to the sky he said a few words of gratitude to God. Then he began breaking up the loaves and fish into portions and handing them to us to serve to the people. I too, found myself holding a basket, looking to the sky and thanking God for providing this food. I broke up the bread and fish into portions for the people to eat, for there always seemed to be enough. When I had run out I simply went back to Jesus for more. And there he was still ripping open bread and fish and passing it out! Our work didn’t seem to stop and nor did the steady supply of fish and bread! We all ate our fill and enjoyed the meal together. There must have been five thousand men, not to mention all the women and children. Afterward we collected the baskets, which each took two men to carry. There were twelve in all, still heaped with hunks of bread and portions of fish! More than we had started with!
“Once we had gathered the baskets, Jesus ushered us disciples into our boat, instructing us to go ahead of him to Bethsaida. He stayed with the crowd to send them on their way. I should imagine that after the last person left he stayed on the hillside to pray, for we did not see him until after night had fallen. Even then he came to us in a most unexpected way.
“Picture this: It’s the middle of the night and you and your friends are far from shore, rowing. You are straining at the oars because the wind is against you. You call the stroke together. Suddenly one of you gives up his oar and points into the night. You see it! A figure about to pass the boat, standing on the water! What would you think it was? Would it trouble you?
“That is how he came to us! We all saw him and took him for a spirit of the dead. It produced in us the kind of terror that made you lose all sense. We let go of loud groans and wails that were carried away in the wind. Before the boat began to turn broadside to the oncoming waves Jesus called out to us, ‘Courage lads! I am here! You have nothing to fear!’ And he was right, for as soon as he clambered aboard with us the wind stopped. In the boat there was a quiet and hushed awe. I’d like to say we were reassured by his company, but the truth is we were completely undone. Our understanding was overloaded. Like those baskets of food we collected, it was simply beyond us to contain it all. We knew it was real, but our minds could not hold any more.
“Having crossed over the lake we anchored at Gennesaret. It was a new day and as soon as we had made landfall the people again flocked to Jesus. People came running from all directions and hearing of his whereabouts they brought the sick on mats. Wherever we came to—villages, towns or cluster of houses—the people placed the sick in the centre of that place where they bought and traded goods. Word had gotten around that even if you touched the edge of his cloak you would be made well. The people pleaded with him to let them do the same, so all those who touched him were healed.”
For the first time since my healing—the recovery of my hearing and my speech—I was lost for words. It seemed that these followers of Jesus were, in a way, having trouble hearing and understanding too. They were often left dumbstruck by the words and actions of Jesus. I wondered if there was more here than met the eye and alerted the ear.
Peter told us more of what happened between the Pharisees and Jesus:
“One day the Pharisees and teachers of the rules gathered around Jesus and asked him outright, ’Your followers eat food with unwashed hands. Why don’t they follow the tradition of our ancestors and ceremonially clean their hands?’
“They were correct in their observation because they had seen us eating together. We all knew the Pharisees practiced ceremonial washing in accordance with the traditions received from generations of Jewish elders. They would not even eat bread when they returned from the marketplace before going through the correct process. They observed all kinds of traditions including the washing of vessels such as cups, pitchers and kettles. So when these teachers of the rules saw us not washing our hands, they saw an opportunity to attack Jesus for encouraging us to act outside the law.
“Imagine then being a teacher of these rules, facing up to the reply of Jesus:
“‘You say one thing but do another. You are the very ones Isaiah was talking about in his prophecy when what he said was recorded:
“Words of honour are on the lips of these people – but who do they honour?
They have willfully turned their backs on me.
Their worship is pointless, it is mere vanity.
What is left when the spirit of the law is ignored?
I tell you the only thing left is the empty teachings of men.”
“‘You do not validate the commands of God. Instead you cling to the traditions passed on by men. You do it so well, carefully blocking your ears to the true commands of God in order to concentrate on the wisdom of your own customs. Let Moses judge you. He said, “Give honour to your father and mother,” and also, “Put to death anyone who curses or wishes evil on his own father and mother, his flesh-and-blood.” Let your own words too, weigh the honesty of your justice: You figure a man can say to the face of his father or mother, “Oh listen, I’ve devoted all I have to the Lord, so ah, I can’t help you with money in your old age – sorry.” You have used this obscure clause in the law to deem your wealth “bound with the Lord.” This “Corban” as you call it cannot be broken, but clearly the fifth commandment handed to Moses can! Do you want me to go on? I could spell out the fault in many more of your common practices!’
“At this Jesus addressed the crowd witnessing the towelling he was giving the teachers of the rules:
“‘Listen, listen to me. I want everyone to get this! Understand my plain speech:
“What someone digests and absorbs from outside
does not make them, so called, unclean.
But what comes out of a person
will surely show us what makes them unclean.””
As I considered these words of Jesus, Peter continued,
“Well, if Jesus didn’t say it at the time, I’ll say it now – If a word of mine has caught your ear, perhaps there’s something deeper to hear!
“After that we left the crowd and went inside the house. Privately we asked him what the parable was about. He asked, ‘Were my words not clear that you are so slow to respond? Don’t you get that nothing that goes into a man from the outside can make him, so called “unclean?” It doesn’t touch his heart but his stomach and then naturally out of his body. (Thus Jesus declares all foods good and acceptable, not barring any for religious reasons). Moreover, what comes out of a person will surely show us what makes them unclean. What continually comes up from the source within—people’s deepest places of decision—will show us what the life inside is characterised by. If the vessel is full of evil intent, sexual depravity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, mean-spiritedness, lies, vulgarity, envy, slander, arrogance and foolishness then it will come out. Clearly a person cannot hold all of this evil inside and it will eventually leak out causing all kinds of wrong. This person is more than unclean, they’re downright toxic!’”
Peter’s retelling of this episode touched me deeply. I had always thought there was something wrong with me because I could not hear or speak. Could my healing be deeper than my new and noticeable gifts of hearing and speaking? While I pondered these things Peter began to tell us about another exchange that was very strange to our ears:
“Jesus left that place and we headed north with him to the area of Tyre on the coast. In this borderland we met some locals who welcomed us into their home. Jesus didn’t want anyone to know he was in town. However, this backdoor secret didn’t last long. And who should discover us? Who would demand the attention of Jesus and bring his presence to light?
“Picture this: A foreign woman raps on the front door asking for Jesus. She’s Greek! She is a woman! To prevent any further unwanted attention she is whisked inside the house. She immediately falls at the feet of the man whose exploits have reached her ears. She explains to Jesus what she has heard about him – thousands are healed by one touch, thousands are fed by a few small loaves, and demons are cast out by a single word. She explains that even though she is not Jewish, but Greek—born in Syrian Phoenicia—her need does not know gender, race or religion. She then begs Jesus to drive the evil spirit out of her daughter.
“Well, we all waited for Jesus’s response. And let me tell you I’ve never heard anything like it. Jesus dignified her. His answer brought her from a quivering mess at his feet to an open exchange usually reserved for a God fearing Jewish man—a rabbi no less—of equal standing. He said to her a sharp quip, ‘Can’t you wait for the children of birthright to eat their fill? It’s not up to me to give away the family bread to any old stray dog wandering our borders.’
“She replied tenaciously, ‘True enough sir, but the strays will wait under the table for the Children of the Crumbs to leave behind what is rightfully theirs. But be sure of this: the strays will get what they came for.’
“Then, Jesus left the honour of the exchange with her by saying, ‘What a comeback! You are free, and so is your daughter for the spirit of evil has left.’
“We heard later that it happened just as he had said. The woman went home and found her child resting on her bed and the demon replaced with deep gratitude.”
My own sense of gratitude grew as Peter then explained how far they had journeyed with Jesus to come upon my situation. They had travelled up the coast, through Sidon and returned to the Sea of Galilee and into the area of the Ten Cities—the Decapolis—where I now found myself part of this good news too. In the coming days my friends and I were with Jesus and his disciples. We were eager to see and hear marvellous things. We did not have to wait long and we were not disappointed.
One day a large crowd had gathered around Jesus. He said to his disciples, “I’m concerned for these people. Three days in the wilderness alongside me is enough to give someone the kind of hunger that calls for a substantial meal. It takes energy to listen and learn and I don’t want to send them away with full hearts and empty bellies. Why, they’ll keel over on the way home! Some of them have journeyed a long distance to hear from me.”
I leaned in close to Jesus’s conversation with his disciples. At the time I thought it sounded very familiar. His disciples answered, “Look around, this place is so out of the way, it’s hard to find – where can we get enough bread to feed them?”
Jesus replied, “Are your loaves hard to find? Count them.”
“We have seven.” they replied.
Well, Jesus set to work. He had us all sit down on the ground. I sensed a rising anticipation among the crowd. He then gathered the loaves and they disappeared into a large basket. He said a few words of thanksgiving and began to tear the bread into hunks and pass it to his disciples. His disciples distributed the bread to all of us in the same fashion: they said a few words of thanks and broke the bread and passed it around. All this time Jesus continued to rip the bread and pass it around and soon it was apparent that there was more than enough. I held the bread in my hand and ate, watching this scratched-together-meal become a feast, and I found myself looking heavenward with words of thanks on my lips, and passing bread on to those alongside me. The disciples also shared around morsels of fish in the same way. Jesus had prayed a blessing of thanks and gave the fish to his disciples, once again continually breaking up more and more. There seemed to be an endless supply of fish and bread. After we had all eaten, everybody around me lay on the grass – indeed our bellies were full and so were our hearts! The disciples, having eaten together with the crowd and Jesus, then got up and collected baskets of bread crumbs and fish flakes that were leftover. Of the seven fish and small sprats there remained seven baskets of surplus. And of the four thousand men plus women and children, I would venture not one wanted for anything more.
Jesus then broke up the crowd and sent them with his own hand of blessing. We watched him and his disciples get into their boat and set off toward the region of Dalmanutha. We were determined to follow them because we wanted to witness the miracles he might do there. When we caught up with them in that place, however, Jesus was locked in discussion with a group of Pharisees. They sought to provoke him by asking where the cosmic sign was to put beyond all doubt that he really was from God. Then I saw him look up to the sky and his shoulders drop with a sigh. The same look of deep anger came over his face as it had done when he healed me. I knew he grieved for them. He replied, “No! No sign for you! Each and every generation asks for an undeniable sign in the sky but has selective hearing when it comes to the truth set before them!” With that he turned his back on them, got into his boat and headed in the opposite direction, across the lake.
When we had reached the other side we found his disciples in discussion amongst themselves. One of them said, “What did he mean, ‘Watch out for those Pharisees—and Herod for that matter—they’ll work on you constantly like yeast works through bread!’?” Another replied, “He’s got bread on the mind because we’ve only got this one loaf to share between us.”
Then Jesus, who was within earshot, piped up, “Why do you speak about not having enough bread? You have seen, you have heard, but still you do not understand? Your hearts are so world-weary that they lack sensation. Look – you have eyes don’t you? Listen – you have ears too, am I right? What else have you forgotten? Remember that crowd over five thousand strong, fed by sharing only five loaves? I kept giving the bread until we were all full. And how many large basketfuls of good fare did you lug into a pile that day?”
“Twelve,” they replied.
“We started with seven loaves the day we fed the crowd of over four thousand – and still there was more. How many basketfuls of surplus did you collect that time?”
They answered, “There were seven.”
He said to them, “Do you think there is more leftover for you to understand and appreciate?”
And in the midst of their bewildered silence I thought to myself, ‘Yes, there is so much more!’