09Sep 09 September. 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Is 34:4-7. The prophet urges those who are losing heart to take courage, for God is coming to vindicate and save his people.

Jm 2:1-5. Class distinction should have no place among Christians. God champions the poor in the world.

Mk 7:31-37. Jesus cures a man who was deaf and dumb, with the powerful “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” Homily Ideas:

Healing the Deaf People of God

Samuel was one of the most remarkable gospel preachers in my village. You see, Samuel was blind and never went to school. Later in life he joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses and had to memorize large portions of the Bible since he could not read. Samuel’s little boy would lead him to your house and Samuel would begin his preaching with the words, “I was blind but now I see!” It was fascinating to see this blind, illiterate man challenging educated and sighted people, and saying, “Now let us turn to John 3:16 and read.” His presence bore testimony to the fact that in Christ, seeing and hearing mean much more than the use of the physical senses of the eye and the ear.

The similarities as well as differences between the external senses of seeing and hearing as compared to the internal faculty of knowing and obeying the message of Christ is the key to understanding Mark’s use of many of the healing miracles. Mark wrote to a community of believers under persecution. In such a situation speaking up for Christ was a dangerous thing. It could cost you your life. The story of the deaf-mute in today’s gospel is apparently aimed at those members of his community who could not bear witness to Jesus because they would not hear his word. Because they are deaf to the words of Jesus, that is why they have a speech impediment in speaking about him. There is, therefore, a parallel between the deaf-mute in today’s gospel and Jesus’ disciples. The man can neither hear nor speak properly. The disciples cannot understand the message of Jesus, and this constitutes an impediment in their proclamation. They, too, need healing.

Jesus took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly (vv 33-35). Why did Jesus take the deaf man away from the crowd? And why did he have to go into such a detailed and graphic healing process when he could simply have said a word and the man would be all right? I think that in these details of the story, Mark is saying something to his readers.

By taking the deaf man far from the madding crowd in order to heal him, Mark is probably saying to them that in order to be healed of their deafness to the word of God they needed to distance themselves from the masses around them, since the healing encounter with Jesus happens in the private intimacy of one’s heart and that of their small Christian community. Remember that Christians were then a small minority and their meetings took place not in big churches but in the private homes of members.

This healing is different from the healing of the Canaanite woman’s daughter which preceded it. In that story, Jesus did not take any action other than to announce the healing to the woman (v. 29). But in this case he goes into an elaborate ritual in seven acts: (1) He takes the man aside. (2) He put his fingers into the man’s ears. (3) He spits and (4) touches the man’s tongue. (5) He looks up to heaven and (6) he sighs. (7) He issues the healing command, “Ephphatha.” Why does Jesus go into all this? More importantly, why does Mark record all this? Probably Mark’s church was beginning to develop their rituals of anointing and the use of special formulas. In that case this was a way of saying to the readers that by participating in these early liturgical ceremonies they would experience healing. And then, after one has experienced this healing, nothing on earth could stop one from proclaiming Jesus, even in the unlikely circumstance that Jesus himself would ask them to keep silent.

Do we realize that we are deaf? Does it occur to us that, as individuals and as church, we do not yet fully understand the message of Jesus? Is that not the reason why we have a speech impediment and the people of our time no longer understand us when we try to tell the Good News? As individuals and as church we need to come to Jesus for healing. And this can happen here, far from the madding crowds, in the privacy of the Eucharistic celebration
Making Distinctions

(by Liam Swords)

Some years ago I was invited to meet an old friend who had returned home after spending some years in South Africa. After she married she and her husband went to live in Johannesburg. As with friends who meet again after a lapse of years we spent that evening at her parents’ home reminiscing about old times. The conversation eventually turned to South Africa and I asked her what was the situation regarding apartheid in that country. Instantly she froze up and what had been a cosy drawing-room atmosphere became noticeably tense. Her voice hardened as she informed me that people in Europe did not understand the real situation in South Africa and, in particular, that they did not realise that blacks were not “fully human.” I was taken completely aback by this sudden outburst. The girl I used to know was generous, outgoing, uncomplicated. She came from exactly the same background as I did. She was even convent educated. And now, after a mere five years in South Africa she had become a white racist. Her parents were obviously embarrassed and I, as much for their sakes as for mine, tried to salvage what was meant to be a pleasant homecoming party by switching the conversation to more innocuous matters.

St James, if he were in my place, would not have put a tooth in it. “My brothers, do not try to combine faith in Jesus Christ, our glorified Lord, with the making of distinctions between classes of people.” James was far too direct to make a good party-goer. My silence also stands condemned by today’s gospel. “Ephphatha!” Christ said when he unloosed the tongue of the dumb man and gave him back his speech. “Ephphatha!” the priest said to me when he touched my lips at baptism so that I would open my mouth to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. On this occasion, as on so many others, I had failed to live up to that promise. If the apartheid system was dismantled in South Africa, it was largely because a Nelson Mandela had the courage, not only to speak out, but to endure twenty-eight long years his prison rather than be silent.

Apartheid in South Africa once made headlines round the world. Anti-semitism, when it occasionally rears its ugly head in France or Germany, sends shivers through the body politic. But our own home-grown, backyard variety of discrimination rarely achieves even local notoriety. It is all the more insidious for that. It is the type James had in mind when he wrote his letter. The teapot looks down on the saucepan, and local communities are riddled with it. And if it thrives, as thrive it does, it is because we condone it by our silence. “Ephphatha! Be opened!” is the shortest prayer Christ used – one Hebrew or two English words. In the world we live in, there is no other prayer which so badly needs an answer. First Reading: Book of Isaiah 35:4-7

Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

Second Reading: Epistle of St. James 2:1-5

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? Gospel: Mark 7:31-37

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.

Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”