Immaculate Conception and St. Dominic, Stone

 

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23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B

Just a Thought.

In our first reading today, we hear from the Prophet Isaiah and especially in verses five and six, he speaks of the healing miracles that will accompany the return from exile: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed, then the lame shall leap like a deer and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy.” As we shall see from all of the readings today, God has had and always will have concern for human-kind, for they are His creation. For early Christianity, this reading from Isaiah and others like it, would certainly have been understood as a prediction of Jesus’ Messianic healings: and so, this passage is eminently fitted for use with today’s Gospel.

Again in the Responsorial Psalm, God’s concern for His children is clearly evident: “It is the Lord that gives sight to the blind, who raises up those who are bowed down.”

Saint James on the other hand continues his exhortations of the right treatment of people, especially the poor, in his pioneering early Christian examination of conscience: “Do not try to combine in Jesus Christ with making distinctions between classes of people.” We are all equal in the eyes of God. If this passage from Saint James makes some of us feel a bit uncomfortable then, so be it. James has done his job. For society is riddled with class distinction and prejudice. If we have had our eyes opened to an obvious injustice, let’s hope also our ears may be opened and our heart, so that we can hear in our conscience what we need to do about it. Our tongue must be loosened to cry out in support for those who are oppressed and downtrodden. Christians need to challenge these false standards of class distinction wherever and whenever they see them and not allow themselves to be lured into conforming to them. There are of course times when the barriers of class distinction come tumbling down: in times of collective danger, or collective sadness, or even collective joy. Distinctions are swept aside and shown up for the harmful things they are: “For we are all God’s children.” On such occasions people reach out to one another, and a great mutual enrichment occurs. Such occasions make us realise how much is lost through artificial divisions. A prime example of this is the times we are experiencing today in the present Covid 19 Pandemic which grips the whole world. We see people globally putting aside prejudices and doing all they can to help their fellow human beings. Let’s hope that the world will learn a valuable lesson from our present experiences. For we must try to conform our standards with those of our Creator — we are God’s son’s and daughter’s and brothers and sisters of Our Lord.

In this Sunday’s Epistle from Saint James, the apostle insists that in all circumstances the same honour should be rendered to the poor, as is rendered to the wealthy, faith in Christ demands this. God does not treat human beings differently, not when He judges them, and not when He calls them to salvation: “Did God not choose those who are poor in the world to be rich and heirs of the kingdom that He promised to those who love Him?” Jesus not only taught this eminent dignity of the poor: He became poor…. so that by His poverty [we] might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9)

The Gospel today concerns the cure of a man who is both deaf and dumb. For that reason, we might dismiss the episode as having no relevance for us, but in truth that would be a missed opportunity. For all of us have our own limitations. The fact that ours are not as visible as those of the man in the Gospel doesn’t make them any less real, we are all wounded and limited in some way.

Jesus as portrayed in Saint Mark’s Gospel, is always on the move, hardly as He arrives somewhere then He leaves to go elsewhere. Such is the urgency of His mission. Mark doesn’t always give us details of these unceasing comings and goings or the particulars that would allow us to locate exactly the places where Jesus stops. Obviously, Saint Mark wants our attention to remain, at every moment, wholly concentrated on what Jesus says and does. The meaning of Jesus’ teachings are, in Mark’s eyes, better understood if we know who the persons around Him are, so the evangelist does not fail to tell us. The same holds true in the accounts of miracles in which the actions and words of Jesus usually hold a higher place than those of the cured person. On the other hand, Mark does mention in what region such and such an incident takes place when the location proves significant, as is the case today.

At the end of a rather complicated itinerary, Jesus arrives in the “district of the Decapolis” deep into undeniably pagan territory. “He has left the region of Tyre and Sidon on the boundaries of Galilee” whose population is a mixed one. Now He is in Gentile country, this fact might help us to understand what is about to happen. “People brought Him a deaf man, who had a speech impediment and begged Him to lay His hand on him.” This opening sentence surprises us. These pagans have obviously heard about the Master. But who is this man who has been given the faith to approach Jesus? Where is he coming from, who brought him? Our surprise becomes greater still as the sick man and those who brought him remain completely anonymous, and no words of theirs are recorded. Our focus is to be uniquely on what Jesus says and what He does and the manner in which He cures the sick man. Firstly, Jesus is very aware that the sick man is on show, the object of scorn, seen as an inferior human being by others, accept for his friends, because of his deafness; and so in His loving and caring way Jesus “took him aside in private, away from the crowd” to save him embarrassment. Remember, to be deaf and dumb in Jesus’s day, was seen as a result of a person’s sin. Mark doesn’t say whether the man is rich or poor, but that doesn’t matter because in the eyes of God we are all equal and deserve the same respect. The way Jesus proceeds is somewhat strange. We would be content with the laying on of hands and we know that one single word from the Master is sufficient to cure the man. Why does He put His fingers in his ears, and why does He touch the man’s tongue with saliva? It is likely that this way of healing was exclusive to Jesus and is definitely something that He had done in the past, as with the blind man of Bethsaida — we can notice similar traits: They brought Him a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. Putting spittle into his eyes, he laid His ~Hands upon him….” Today after taking the deaf mute aside in private, Jesus “put His fingers in into the deaf man’s ears and touched his tongue with spittle. Then looking up to heaven He sighed and said to him ‘Ephphatha’, that is ‘Be opened’ and his ears were opened, and the ligament of his tongue was loosened and he spoke clearly.” The comparison with the blind man of Bethsaida is obvious. The only conclusion one can draw is that Jesus was very aware that the deaf man couldn’t hear nor the blind man see, yet they could both feel His touch.

‘Ephphatha’ is an Aramaic word which for a long time was used by Christians. Today the prayer of ‘Ephphatha’ is used in the Baptismal liturgy, where those being baptised have their ears and lips touched by the minister as he prays “Ephphatha” (Be opened) “The Lord made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May He soon touch your ears to receive His word, and your mouth to proclaim His faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father”. (The Rite of Baptism)

The narrative ends with the mention of praise that this cure arouses. Today, this praise freely rises in the Christian assembly that commemorates the marvels accomplished by the Lord since the day He cured a nameless deaf mute. This is supremely true in the Paschal Sacrifice — the Mass — where Jesus touches us in a special way and gives Himself to us in Holy Communion — Body —Blood — Soul — and Divinity. “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and [the] mute speak”, Jesus’ cure of this nameless deaf mute in “The district of the Decapolis” becomes a sign of new times. All those who up to the present have been deaf, can now hear His Word, confess that He is the Messiah, the Son of God, and go out into the whole world to proclaim the Good News, and in their turn, sing His praise.

In your footsteps, justice for the poor has bloomed; you say “Ephphatha” and ears are opened; you listen: tongues are loosened for your praise; you stretch your hand, and we are healed. Marvellous are your works, Lord, Master of life! You are the joy of your faithful, you hear their cry, you save them. You cure the broken hearted and tend to their wounds. You unbind those who are chained, you open to captives the door of happiness. Let us bless the Lord at all times, may His praise be always on our lips.”

Ephphatha” Amen.

 

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