Ephphatha! - Be Opened!

by Rev. Joo Kang,
pastor of Magothy United Methodist Church of the Deaf,  Pasedena,  Maryland
Chaplain at Gallaudet University, Washington, D.C.

(Note: The following article is from Joo Kang, who was our 2007 Silent Night Benefit Dinner speaker. I receive his church's newsletter which published the article below for September-October 2008. The following has been republished with Joo's permission. - Rev.Dr. Tom Hudspeth).



I have been working at Gallaudet University as chaplain since the fall of 2006. I was thrilled to have opportunities to meet Gallaudet students who may well be called elites in the deaf community.  Needless to say, Gallaudet University has been revered and cherished as the Mecca of the Deaf world because of its character as the only liberal arts university in the world that was established to educate Deaf students. It would be not surprising to see many of them maintain the intensity of their pride in deafness, Deaf culture and sign language. I believe it is a healthy attitude to maintain a pride in deafness. I once was a victim of inferiority and shameful feeling about deafness when I was young.

I was shocked, however, to learn that there is a tendency among them to regard Jesus Christ as audist who regards hearing preferable to deaf and therefore reject him as anti-deaf. In other words, Jesus Christ was not popular among them. Even some students complained that Jesus should not have cured deafness as found in the chapter 7 of Mark. I heard that there was once a movement at Gallaudet University to remove the word “Ephphatha” which is fingerspelled in the official seal. The reason is that they felt the word repugnant because it means “Be opened” and it implies that deafness is something to be eliminated.

It is not hard to understand their logic. If we carefully read the narrative of Jesus’ healing of a deaf man as shown in Mark 7, we will immediately construe that “Ephphatha” has something to do with opening the ears and mouth. It makes sense to interpret the Aramaic word “Ephphatha” which means “Be opened” as opening the deaf man’s ears and mouth so that he might be able to hear and speak as hearing people.

I, however, don’t like to take a myopic outlook. There is no subject or object of the word “Ephphatha” to be sure. Jesus did not mention about the object or subject of “Be opened.” He did not say, “Let the ears and mouth be opened.” He simply said, “Be opened!” Of course, it would be  reasonable to infer that the subject of the word “Ephphatha” should be the ears and mouth of the deaf man from the context of the narrative of the deaf man’s healing. But again, there is no mention about the subject of “Be opened!” What does it mean? It means that we can widen the subject of ‘Ephphatha’ to more than just ears and mouth. It would be no mistake to conclude that Jesus wanted to open not only the ears and mouth, but also the doors of many opportunities that had been tightly shut to deaf people. He wanted to open educational, vocational, and linguistic opportunities for us. We must thank Jesus for opening great opportunities for us because he has commanded in a firm tone to be opened (Ephphatha) for the sake of the deaf man. 

There is much historical evidence that Christianity has been the forerunner of deaf education in the world. It is Christianity that has been actively recognizing the inherent value of deaf people as created in the image of God. It is Christianity that has been very active in spreading the gospel among deaf people. Only Christianity has been proud to produce a large number of deaf clergy. I have not heard of any deaf Buddhist or Muslim clergy members. We should be grateful to have Jesus Christ as our Lord. Certainly, he is the Son of the living God and our Savior. He is the Real Friend to deaf people!

“He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”)”  (Mark 7:34)