Today’s readings seem to point at a reversal of a condition, one of which is the healing of the Deaf man. This story reminds me of my childhood experience, when I almost lost my sense of hearing because of an ear infection. Mindful of the Deaf people, have we asked some Deaf people of their thoughts and feelings about this narrative? Have we included them in this gospel conversation? Is it possible to see this narrative other than healing? I invite you now to enter the Deaf world and try for a moment to “be open”, ephphatha.
There are parts of this narrative that we can scrutinize, yet I would like to focus on the scene where, Jesus and the Deaf man were away from the crowd. Let us imagine the two. It is possible that while walking away from the crowd, Jesus was trying to start a conversation with the Deaf. Perhaps, the Deaf man, at this point would want to stop Jesus and communicate to the latter that he cannot hear. How will he do this? If you were the Deaf, how will you tell Jesus to stop because you cannot hear and speak? Surely, you will point to your ear and tongue, and shake your hands indicating, “there is nothing.” Further, do you really think that the Deaf man will allow Jesus to touch his tongue with the latter’s hand with saliva? Will you allow Jesus to do that to you? All the Deaf I asked about this matter responded strongly with a “No way!” Could it be that it was the Deaf who touched his ear and tongue and not Jesus? For most Deaf, this is the point when Jesus takes time, looks intently at the Deaf man, and tries to understand his self-expression. It was a process of ephphatha. It is when the two see eye-to-eye that Jesus realizes he must “be open” – ephphatha-- this time to a person who cannot hear and whose tongue (or language) is not spoken with words, but expressed with body movements, and who listens not with his ears but with his eyes.
My Deaf friends believe that Jesus will show respect and acceptance towards the Deaf man as he is. The Deaf man gave no direct attestation that he can hear and speak. Rather, the narrator informed us about the reversal of the Deaf man’s condition. However, it seems that the crowd failed to hear Jesus’ instruction and their tongue broke loose, because they were the ones who spread the news.
For my Deaf community, the story ends with respect and acceptance, expressed in an embrace. Hence, for them, no healing happened here, rather it is a conversion of Jesus and the crowd because they begin to “be open,” ephphatha.
Yes, this understanding of the gospel might raise our eyebrows and raise questions, because the Greek text does not state it in this way. True. But then again, we fall into the trap of refusing to see how a Deaf can offer new insights about this narrative, because we often exclude them from the conversation. It is again us, not them. It has always been this way. To insist that Jesus healed the Deaf. Do Deaf people think that something is wrong with them, or is that what many of us has instilled in their consciousness? How would we feel, if from the beginning, people see and consider us as not normal, damaged, deformed, or defective and needing repair? How does a medicalized reading of this gospel affect the Deaf people? Forcing them to hear and speak is painful. We focus on the curing of the Deaf man and pegging his condition as an auditory malady. In the process, we forget what matters most - the person. Our medicalized reading of this story has shaped our relationship with the Deaf people quite negatively, as manifested in how we often disengage from them.
Could we, for once listen, “be open”, ephphatha, and let them communicate, and express their thoughts and feelings about this story, which many of us have denied from them. This denial has created a negative understanding of deafness and Deafhood. Will this alternate reading affect us, to see deafness not a deformity or defect, but a way of life and the Deaf not as an object to cure or repair, but someone diverse? It is only when we begin to “be open,” ephphathathat things will be clear, and we see what they express “correctly.” Then we will learn to respect, accept, and embrace our fellow Deaf who are wonderfully diverse.
Will we “be open”? Ephphatha.
Kristine C. Meneses
Kristine C. Meneses is a Deaf and Disability advocate. She shares the perspective of her Deaf community on seeing Deaf and Disability as human diversity. This stance is evident in my published articles that raise awareness about the Deaf, Disabled and Queer. She earned her degree of Ph.D. in Theology at the St. Vincent School of Theology and presently an Asst. Professor at the University of Santo Tomas (both institutes are in the Philippines).
She is currently the Coordinator of the Ecclesia of Women in Asia (EWA) and holds a membership in the Catholic Biblical Association of the Philippines (CBAP). She was an alumna at the Bat Kol Institute, Jerusalem, Israel, Summer 2016 and was a research fellow at the DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois, USA, Summer 2015. Her field of interests are Biblical Theology and Theological Ethics concentrating on Deaf-Disability and Queer (not limited to gender) perspective and orientation, and Post-structuralism. For a decade now, she continually ministers as a volunteer Sign Language interpreter for Deaf people.
Her latest publications are: “Creatively Claiming Her Space for the ‘Other’: A Socio-Rhetorical Analysis and Poststructuralist Hermeneutics of Matthew 5.39-41” in The 21st Century Women Still Claiming Her Space: Asian Feminist Theological Perspectives(Delhi: Media House, 2018) and “Silent and Silenced: Deaf Theology and Spirituality,” in God’s Image Vol. 36, No. 1 (June 2017).
She would like to thank the following who made this video possible:
Mr. Emmanuel Bernardino (Deaf) of Visual Hands Studio, Camera Operator and Video Editor
Michael “Auch” Autencio (Hearing), Director and Sound Editor
Maria Elena Lozada (Deaf), Sign Language Inset
Christian Romuel Arguelles and Robelyn Arcangel (both Deaf), Production Assistants