Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 6, 2015
I am at that point in life where I enjoy “senior discounts.” But with the perks there are also some down sides. For example, when I go into a restaurant to enjoy the “Early Bird Special,” I find that I need to be selective about the seating. I need a table that is not too close to the cash register, the kitchen, the juke box, or even another table with a lot of other people. I also need to sit directly across from the person with whom I am dining. If there are more than two at the table, I find myself repeatedly saying to the people on my right and left: “Excuse me? What did you say,” and, as the meal draws on, just plain “Huh?” With age, hearing is starting to fail me. Ambient sounds, noise, and even conversation from adjoining tables block or interfere with conversations I am involved in. Fortunately for me, I was blessed with hearing at birth, so at least at this point, my speech is unaffected by the calendar. All of this has given me a new appreciation for this Sunday’s Gospel.
Mark’s report of the healing of the deaf and mute man (Mark 7:31-37) leaves out a lot of detail, which, in a way, is an invitation for us to color in the lines. This also encourages and even enables us to search for the deeper meaning behind this double miracle.
It appears that this man was born deaf. As a result, his ability to speak was severely compromised. It was with great difficulty, and to only a very few, that he would have been able to express himself. His thoughts, worries, concerns, needs, desires, and longings were all trapped behind a tongue that did not know how to form intelligible words. It was only those who cared deeply for him that would take the time to understand him…and in turn…enable him to understand what they wanted to tell him. A very significant element of this story then seems to be the importance of our relationships with others. The man’s friends cared enough for him that they sought out Jesus and begged Him to cure the man. The man trusted his friends to the point that he went off by himself with Jesus. Somehow, in spite of his disability, the man understood that he could place his trust in the Lord!
For His part, Jesus addressed all of the man’s needs. The Lord gave the man the sense of hearing, and, in an instant, gave him the gift of language. From the numerous healings that Jesus did during His earthly ministry, this one is among the very few reported in the Gospels. In spite of the lack of detail, it stands out and is remembered even to the point that the healing gesture is included in the Baptism of infants. The two-fold gesture of touching the man’s ears and tongue is repeated as the priests prays that The Holy Spirit open the ears of the child…to hear the Good News…and empower the child’s tongue to proclaim the goodness of the Lord!
So then, if you “color in between the lines,” what you might well be left with is a portrait of yourself…a disciple of Jesus Christ. Through Baptism, we are placed into a special relationship with Christ. What a great perk! But along with the “perks” comes responsibility to others. The Holy Spirit opened your ears so that The Word of the Lord can overpower all of the blaring noise of this world, and penetrate deeply into our minds and our hearts. The language of the Gospel…The Good News…has been placed on our tongue…and now, you are charged with the responsibility of taking the time and making the effort to communicate this Good News with those still deafened to God’s Word.
In Mark’s Gospel, we are told that The Lord made an effort to keep His identity secret…but He made no secret of that fact that to be His flower, one must do for others what the friends of the deaf man did. Think of it this way. You have been given the license to use the word “EPHPHATHA!” Be opened!
So the question of the week is simply this: Do you care enough to do that? Are you strong enough in your faith and fearless enough to take someone who is deaf to the Gospel…and speak that word with the same force and effect that Jesus spoke it?
EPHPHATHA! It’s a strange word…that now belongs to you…will you use it?