“Moses said to YHWH, “But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,
either before or since you have spoken to your servant.” Ex 4:10
Twenty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B:
Openness Can Cure Our Deafness.
An essential part of being healed - that is feeling whole is the sense of belonging. Belonging within nature. Belonging to one another. Belonging in our own skin. This weekend we encounter Jesus healing a deaf man. The story comes straight after Jesus has healed the Syrophenician woman’s daughter. Mark (7: 31-37) starts his gospel account with what sounds like, a little a geography lesson or travel log. “Jesus left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis.” The gospel is not about site seeing; but about seeing God. Jesus who is traveling on foot, travels to Galilee, going by way of Sidon would take him fare out of his way. Jesus has a purpose to this trip in Gentile country. His own people have rejected his message so he goes to the Gentiles, whom his people call 'dogs'. He is reaching out to the despised and ignored who, are eager to hear him. God’s plan is universal and is not limited to human bias or prejudice, to one nation, or just to one religion. Jesus touches one considered a sinner.
In the eyes of his contemporaries the man’s deafness was seen as a result of his sin. Jesus travelled a long way, physically, religiously and socially, to get to this man, to open his ears and to loosen his tongue. In this Gentile territory, a deaf man with a speech impediment, is brought to Jesus. This miracle is not just about one sick and needy person. Deafness in the Bible is symbolic for not hearing God’s word. St. Paul in his letter to the Romans reminds us that "faith comes by hearing" (Rom 10:17). We need to hear God in our lives. We are like the deaf man, and don’t speak clearly. In the Old Testament hearing has spiritual implications because it summarizes the Jewish covenant God established with Israel. In Deuteronomy (6:4) the people are called to listen. “Listen (or) Hear O Israel.” What they hear is the command to love God with all their heart, soul and strength and to take to heart the word of God, which is life-giving.
Through the ages God has used a variety of means to get our attention: a burning bush, a pillar of fire, a moving cloud, thunder and a gentle breeze. God’s prophets were also an attempt to get people to listen. Ultimately God’s greatest attempt to be heard and heeded came in the person of Jesus, the living Word of God. St. John in awe at what God did in Jesus says, “What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes and what we have looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the word of life” (1John 1:1). God took flesh and could also hear us and touch us and so communicate love to all. This is what Jesus did today for the deaf man. He touched the man’s ears and opened him to his word and touched his tongue with his saliva so he could speak God's word.
Jesus ever sensitive to a person's need takes the deaf man off in private so as to not make a public show of his needs. Imagine how confused he must have been when he was cured, how disoriented with all the noise and excitement around him. We of course can also get distracted by the noise and voices around us. Alone with Jesus the first voice the deaf man heard was Jesus speaking to him. The miracle begins with opening
the man’s ears: “Ephphatha!… Be opened!” First the man hears and then he can speak. His life has now changed completely and he starts to speak about Jesus (even though Jesus has told him not to). Jesus touched the Gentile, the outsider. At times our listening is not keen enough, or humble enough, to cause the transformation in us.
We are like the deaf man and beg Jesus to open our ears to hear his word in our daily lives. Once our ears are opened and we 'hear' again about our worth to God and of our selfishness and our greed, our apathy and our laziness. We also hear what God, in Jesus, has to tell us: that we are loved and cherished by God, who desires communion with us. Now our tongues are loosened to give thanks and praise for what God has done for us in Christ. At the Eucharist we ask Jesus to speak to us, “Ephphatha...Be opened!” We also ask that we might be able to hear the voices of those who often are outside our usual range of hearing, those we can be deaf to. They include the elderly, single parents, sick poor, unborn, gays, students burdened by loans, low income workers, injured military personnel and their families and those working in dangerous jobs. The story begins with the man’s ears being opened, and so he can listen to what Jesus says. Isn’t that the best gift someone can give to another? Listening, really listening, means not formulating responses in our heads as the other is talking, but hearing them out; not feeling obliged to give good advice, or to come up with a solution for them. Just practice listening. What a gift! The best listener of all was Jesus. People who came to him felt deeply heard. Today’s story started with people who brought the deaf and mute man to Jesus. He heard their request. Remember, he was in Gentile country among those whom his own people would have rejected and ignored. But Jesus found a willing heart in this outsider. On the margins of society Jesus found an openness to his love message. God isn’t deaf. God keeps speaking to us. The gospel account tells us that God can be heard in those our world often turns a deaf ear to. This gospel story is our own personal story. What 'Gentile' territory do we need to go to? Jesus wants to give us a new gift of hearing. In the Roman Catholic rite of baptism, the priest touches the ears and lips of the person saying:“The Lord Jesus has made the deaf to hear and the mute to speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his words and your mouth to proclaim his faith to the praise and glory of God the Father.” May this prayer be answered in all our lives. "Ephphatha!"