The groan that heals, frees and opens

εὐαγγελίζω (euaggelizo)
“to announce the Good News of victory in battle”

“... then He looked up to heaven
and groaned (ἐστέναξεν, estenazen),
and said to him, “Ephphatha!”
that is, “Be opened!””

θεωρέω (theoreo)
(“to perceive, discover, ponder a deeper meaning”)

This Sunday’s proclamation from the Gospel according to Saint Mark opens with Jesus traveling an impressible distance: from Tyre to the district of the Decapolis and once there, an event with meticulous and vivid detail unfolds. When Jesus got to the district of the Decapolis (an alliance of 10 Greek cities, south of the Sea of Galilee, formed to help preserve and advance their culture and commercial interests), nameless “people” brought to Jesus a “deaf man who had a speech impediment.” Reminiscent of an episode earlier in Mark’s Gospel, the paralyzed man being brought to Jesus by 4 people [chapter 2], once again ‘others’ are instrumental in bringing people to an encounter with the Person, Jesus.

The people who bring the deaf man to Jesus want Him “to lay his hand on him,” a gesture certainly familiar to many people who witnessed various healings by Jesus. Yet this time, Jesus follows a different course of action by removing Himself and the deaf man from the crowd and using His fingers and spittle. Some scholars suggest that the Greek people of the Decapolis would have recognized these gestures as inherently healing, even though Jesus and the deaf man are off by themselves. The healing gesture is followed by a Jesus emitting a mystifying “groan.”

στενάζω (stenázo) is the Greek verb translated “to groan” (and it can also be translated “to sigh”). There are certainly situations and circumstances that occur in day-to-day living that cause one to groan or to sigh, many of them involving disappointment that a particular course of action did not result the way one had planned. In the biblical world of the Gospels, though, στενάζω is often used as a response to oppression. Someone or something is actively preventing a person or people from living fully and another is needed in order to remove the oppression (for example, the Hebrew people caught in the slavery bondage of Egypt). στενάζω also signals to the people of the Decapolis that Jesus’ work is in no way associated with variants of Greek magical rites but a recognition of the reality of oppression that must be conquered. Jesus conquers the oppression here and, as the Cross looms ever present in His Public Ministry, He will definitely conquer all oppression and then command His disciples to freely and boldly speak of Him and His power to liberate humanity.