The gospel writers were gifted and they
were also very deliberate in what they wrote. We might want to skip
over some details to get to the "meat" of the story. But the writers
did not put fillers in the narrative. In the seeming-unimportant
details of the story are hints of the whole gospel message. So, for
example, today Mark starts his story with, what sounds like, a
little "scene setter," or geographical tidbit.
"Jesus left the district of Tyre and
went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the
Decapolis." That doesn’t sound like there is much "meat" in that,
does there? Well, we know the gospel writer wasn’t writing a tour
book – noting sites not to miss if you were in the district of the
Decapolis, or going to the Sea of Galilee. No, the gospel is not
about seeing sites; it’s about seeing God.
A person knowledgeable of the geography
of the New Testament would note that if Jesus were traveling to
Galilee, going by way of Sidon would take him 26 miles out of his
way. And remember – he is traveling on foot. Jesus has a purpose to
this trip and Mark has also made it very clear that Jesus is in
Gentile country. What’s more, Mark says Jesus is "again" among the
Gentiles, so he has gone there before. His own people have rejected
his message and he goes to the Gentiles, whom his people call
"dogs." He is reaching out to the despised and ignored who, as it
turns out, are eager to hear him. God’s plan is universal and is not
limited to human restrictions, to one nation or just one religion.
There, in Gentile territory, a deaf man
with a speech impediment, a Gentile, is brought to Jesus. Of course
is not just about one sick and needy person. Deafness in the Bible
is symbolic for not hearing God’s word. (Remember what St. Paul says
about faith coming through hearing – Rom 10: 17) We need to hear God
in our lives. Because we don’t hear, like the deaf man, we don’t
Jesus takes the man off in private. How
sensitive, not to make a public show of this man’s needs. Imagine
how confused he would have been when he was cured, how disorienting
all the noise and excitement would be. We get distracted by the
noise and voices around us. Alone with Jesus the first voice the man
would hear was Jesus speaking to him. The miracle begins with
opening the man’s ears: "Ephphatha!… Be opened!" Note the sequence:
first the man hears and then he can speak. His life has changed
completely and, as a sign of that, the first thing he does is to
Listening has spiritual implications in
the Bible. It summarizes the Jewish covenant God established with
Israel. In Deuteronomy (6:4) the people are called to listen.
"Listen 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 ways to gain our attention: the burning bush so fascinated Moses
he couldn’t help but listen. For the desert wanderers it was a
pillar of fire, a mobile cloud and some claps of thunder to draw the
children to Mount Sinai to listen to God. God’s prophets were
creative in their attempts to get people to listen; they danced,
sang, told stories, and performed symbolic actions.
Ultimately God’s greatest attempt to be
heard and heeded became flesh in the person of Jesus, the Word of
God. St. John was in awe of what God did in Jesus saying, "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). St. John was amazed that the disciples could hear and touch
"the word of life." God took flesh and could also hear us and touch
us and in that, communicated love to all. Which is what Jesus did
today for the deaf man. He touched the man’s ears and opened him to
his word. Today’s gospel begins with a touch.
Jesus touched a Gentile, the outsider.
In the eyes of his contemporaries the man’s affliction would be seen
as a result of his sin. Jesus touches one considered a sinner – led
him away from the crowd, put his finger into the man’s ear, touched
his tongue, looked up to heaven and said "Ephphatha." Jesus traveled
a long way, physically, religiously and socially, to get to this
man, to open his ears and loosen his tongue.
At times our listening is not keen
enough, or humble enough, to cause the transformation in us. We
stand today with the deaf man and beg Jesus to open our ears to hear
his word in our daily lives. Our ears are opened and we hear again
about our sins, our selfishness and our greed, our apathy and our
laziness. But 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 as we praise what God has done for us
in this Eucharist.
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 was Jesus. People who
came to him felt heard. Today’s story started with people who
brought the deaf and mute man to Jesus and begged him to help. He
heard the request. Remember, he was in Gentile country among those
whom his own people would have ignored, or sent away. But Jesus
found a willing heart in this outsider. On the margins of society
Jesus found an openness to his message.
During this frenetic election cycle we
would do well to be good listeners. In imitation of today’s gospel
we need to listen to the outsiders, those whose voices are drowned
out by self interests and quests for power. At this Eucharist we ask
Jesus to speak his word again for us, "Ephphatha...Be opened!" We
also ask that we can hear those who often are outside our usual
range of hearing, those we, our church and our country, 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, those working in dangerous
God hasn’t gone mute, God keeps
speaking to us. Judging from the gospel God can be heard in those
our world often turns a deaf ear to. This gospel story is our own
personal story. We too have received the gift of hearing. As the
presider at our baptism prayed, touching our ears and lips:
"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."
So then, may what we have heard from
the Lord be manifested in our words and deeds.
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s
The Letter of James goes on to name a
human tendency played out across time and cultures to give
preference and honor to the rich and easily dismiss the poor. This
letter continues to challenge us even to the point of discomfort. It
reminds me of a quote by Finley Peter Dunne, Chicago Evening Post
journalist and humanist of the late 1800’s, that has sometimes been
adopted by religious leaders. To paraphrase, Dunne said that one job
of the newspaper is "to comfort the afflicted and afflict the
comfortable." The Letter of James is doing the same in the realm of
Catholic social teaching instructs us
to work against our tendency to exalt wealth and power and to give,
instead, a "preferential option to the poor." Imagine a world where
marginalized voices are truly heard; a world where the vulnerable
have safety nets to protect them from their precarious position
provided out of love for their human dignity; a world where
lifestyles, policies, and social constructs are developed by how
they impact the poor. We are called to bring about this world, this
kingdom of God.
As a people of faith, we cannot live
with our proverbial "head in the sand." The Vatican II document,
"Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People," calls the laity to
"develop the habit of working in the parish in close cooperation
with their priests, of bringing before the ecclesial community their
own problems, world problems, and questions regarding humanity’s
salvation, to examine them together and solve them by general
discussion…Indeed they [the laity] will not confine their
cooperation within the limits of the parish or diocese, but will
endeavor…to extend it to interparochial, interdiocesan, national and
international spheres" (III, 10).
Deepen your consciousness, open
yourself to the treatment of the poor/disadvantaged in our
community, nation, and world, pray for the courage to step out of
your box, then ACT and SPEAK in LOVE. As Pope Francis instructs,
"Continue to overcome apathy, offering a Christian response to the
social and political anxieties, which are arising in various parts
of the world. I ask you to be builders of the world, to work
for a better world. . .please, don’t be observers of life, but get
involved. Jesus did not remain an observer, but he immersed himself.
Don’t be observers, but immerse yourself in the reality of life, as
Jesus did" (7/27/13).