The Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
9 September 2018 at Saint Peter the Apostle and St. Willian Churches in Naples, FL
Isaiah 35, 4-7 + Psalm 146 + James 2, 1-5 + Mark 7, 31-37
When you are different, people are afraid of you. If you’re blind, people step out of the way. If you are deaf few people will find a way to communicate with you. Moreover, some with a severe hearing deficit or with no hearing at all find it very difficult to speak, and so communication is difficult resulting in a great burden of isolation and often depression. These people suffer, not from hearing loss, because it isn’t painful. They suffer because they rarely get a chance to contribute to the community. They feel as though no one understands them, and many feel useless. The rest of us just feel sorry, but not Jesus Christ.
This episode of Mark’s Gospel is not about a deaf man. It is about deafness, and the inability to hear; and with it therefore, the inability to speak. All of us suffer from some kind of impediment that keeps us from making full use of speech. Some are shy. Some are apathetic. Some are just insensitive or unaware of the silence because they are busy making noise with their opinions or tuning in only the sounds that make them comfortable and secure. We might call it, selective hearing. They have impediments that prevent them from hearing as well like prejudice, inattention, or simply a decision to just not listen. Be open is the command of Jesus, be open.
What seems at first like a typical miracle story might be much more. Almost every one of the miracles recorded in the Gospels are public events that happen out in the open in front of everyone. This time, Jesus takes the man off by himself to a private place. It is an intimate, personal story with intimate and personal details. Jesus touched that man. First Jesus touched his own mouth and then touched that man’s mouth. Then Jesus touched his ears, and I believe that in doing so Jesus touched his heart, and that touch made that man new.
We have to wonder what Jesus is saying to us in this Gospel, because the Word of God is alive among us. This is no old story from “back in the day.” We have to wonder about those nameless people who brought that man to Jesus. Perhaps there is the suggestion that we might be expected to lead someone to Christ, someone who is different. On the other hand, we might well be the ones who are deaf and do not speak, deaf to the silent cry of someone who is different, even deaf to the Word of God that calls us to repentance. We may be the ones who do not speak in the face of injustice or wrong-doing. We may be the one who feels so different burdened by isolation and depression. Whichever it is, our best hope and our prayer today is that Jesus will touch us. Hearing and speech are great gifts. But without a heart that is able to feel compassion, we will never use them well. It is only with the heart that we can listen rightly, and only with the heart that can speak kindly and justly. For this today, we must pray.