By Father Christopher M. O’Connor
“JESUS, WHAT DID you just do?”
I imagine that must have been the reaction of the Apostles after witnessing the miracle of the deaf and mute man we read in this Sunday’s Gospel. Although Mark relates that Jesus took the man off by himself from the crowd, I am certain that the apostles watched from a distance.
They see Jesus stick his fingers in the deaf man’s ears, Jesus spits on his finger and places it on the man’s tongue and then Jesus groans (the only time we hear this in the Gospel).
Then our Lord calls out “Ephphatha,” the original Aramaic word meaning, “Be opened.”
Immediately, the man is healed of his deafness and his speech impediment. This miracle is only recorded in Mark and is the most physically graphic miracle account in all of Scripture according to Dr. Mary Healy in her book, “The Gospel of Mark” from the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture series.
Imagine the loneliness of the man, who had no hearing and no speech. There was no official sign language back then. All those years he was silent, unable to communicate other than by pointing. The frustration, the pain and isolation must have been overbearing.
The people of the Decapolis, a Gentile region, hear that this miracle worker has returned to their province and bring the deaf-mute man to Jesus. The man would have been bewildered by what was going on – “Where are you taking me? What is happening?”
He then encounters Jesus and sees the compassion in His eyes and he trusts in the Lord who takes him aside. Jesus touches his ears, the source of his loneliness and pain, Jesus touches his tongue that is not able to speak. Then his whole world changes.
The world is no longer silent for this man and the first words he hears come from Jesus. How precious that moment is, to hear for the first time and then to hear Jesus speak!
There was a time when I told my spiritual director that sometimes I wish I had never heard the Gospels before and he looked at me in puzzlement. I said, “because I would love to hear them for the first time, now as an adult, like the people of Jesus’ time did.”
Mark does not tell us what Jesus said to the man, only that He told the crowd not to tell anyone about the miracle. After all those years of not hearing, I am sure that man never forgot what Jesus said to him.
The Greek word “mogilalos” is used to describe the speech impediment of the man. It is used only one other time in all of Scripture and that is in this week’s first reading from Isaiah. The promise heard here refers to the expectant and hopeful return home to Israel after the Babylon exile. Israel is in exile because they had become deaf to the Word of the Lord. They failed to trust in God and keep the commandments.
Silencing God’s Voice
That is true for many of us – we become deaf to God in our lives or in our ministry. We live in isolation or exile because we do not listen to the voice of God and then we are impeded in our speech of how to talk of God. Our deafness comes from relying on our own wisdom and we silence God’s voice in our lives.
In the second reading from James, the author warns the people not to judge solely on external appearances or by how wealthy someone is, responding to a situation in the early Church, where some have become deaf to the Gospel and seek satisfaction outside of the Word of God. He exhorts them to “Listen” and to understand the how God favors the poor who are rich in faith.
Spiritual deafness is a real problem within the lives of many. It can come from an arrogance that believes we have nothing left to learn, or sloth in our prayer life or in the seeds of doubt in a loving God.
Spiritual deafness is overcome by allowing ourselves to be taken aside by Jesus, like the deaf man, to be alone with Him, either before the Blessed Sacrament or a private place of prayer. We allow the Lord to heal that deafness, we are eager for Him to do so, that we able be able to hear His voice.
Listening for His Word
Father Francis Martin, a noted Scripture scholar and leader in the charismatic renewal, would tell his students to go to the chapel and ask Jesus to speak a word to them. They were not to leave the chapel until they heard that word.
Let us try that suggestion. Ask the Lord to speak a word and then listen. When we hear that word, we will be like the people who witnessed the healing of the deaf man and proclaim, “Praise the Lord, my soul.”
Readings for 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 35: 4-7A
Psalm 146: 6-7, 8-9, 9-10
James 2: 1-5
Mark 7: 31-37
Father O’Connor is the pastor of Blessed Virgin Mary Help of Christians parish, Woodside