September 5, 2021 at Saint Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples, FL
Isaiah 35, 4-7 + Psalm 146 + James 2, 1-5 + Mark 7, 31-37
Every time I hear or read this Gospel, I am reminded of a section on the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel painted by Michelangelo. You’ve at least seen pictures of that scene. On the left is Adam lounging around in all his corporal glory, and God is on the right surrounded by angels. God is reaching out toward Adam and Adam is reaching out toward God. In the mind of the artist, it is the moment of creation. Their fingers are just inches apart. God is going to touch Adam and bring him to life.
Now consider this Gospel story as Mark tells it. Jesus reaches out and touches that man with his finger. That detail by Mark is sheer genius. With that detail, we get the whole story, it’s purpose, and its consequence. That man, unable to speak because he cannot hear, cannot communicate. He is an outsider, alone, cutoff from communion with others because he can’t hear and he speak. Jesus recreates him at that moment exactly the way God intended in the beginning.
Sin has left us all deaf to God’s Word of Love. Sin has left us unable to be in communion not just with one another, but with God as well. There are other details here worth some reflection. Jesus takes the man aside for an intimate and personal encounter away from the sensation seeking crowd. This is not a side-show. Jesus respects that man’s feelings and vulnerability. At the same time, Jesus knows that the man’s inability to speak comes from his inability to hear. So, Jesus enables him to hear which allows him to speak restoring him to the community. He can now “communicate.” With a word of command, Jesus speaks with the authority of God who said: “Let there be light.” Immediately that man can speak and hear.
A few minutes ago, we heard from the Prophet Isaiah. That book bearing his name is a book of clues for detecting the Messiah. The early church understood those clues and preserved for us the stories that unfold the clues. The clues point to a Messiah who will come with “divine recompense” which simply means he will come to set right what is off kilter. In a sense, the Messiah comes to put creation back on track.
Jesus insists that no one is to talk about what has happened for the simple reason that he does not want what he does to be misinterpreted. He is not there to entertain and wow them with power. There is a deeper meaning, one that can only be revealed to those who have come to meet Jesus and be transformed by a sincere, real, and personal relationship. They were not to speak about what they saw until they could fully understand it from within that relationship.
The beauty of this story is that concerned friends brought the needy person to Jesus, seeking what Isaiah called divine recompense. They turned to Jesus, believing and hoping that he could help the man live to his fullest capacity. It is an example of discipleship, a reminder of our vocation which is not so much to teach and preach as it is to allow ourselves to be so transformed that others will seek what we have been given. Then, as St. Francis of Assisi insisted, our lives will explain Christ’s saving love better than any words we can say.