23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B

6 September 2015

Isaiah 35:4-7
James 2:1-5
Mark 7:31-37

One time I was watching a football match on television. On either side of me were two priest friends, both of whom were smoking. During the match I was most uncomfortable breathing in all their smoke. Both of them had been advised to give up or at least reduce their smoking habit. But they didn’t. Some time later the younger of the two, aged about 50, got a slight heart attack. The doctor who treated him offered him a choice, to give up smoking or die within 6 months. That shocked him and he immediately did what he thought he could never have done. He stopped smoking. At that moment the doctor’s warning opened his ears to hear in a way he didn’t hear before. Sad to say the other priest didn’t pay any attention to what his friend decided to do and he died not too long afterwards of a massive heart attack. By the way this is not an anti-smoking campaign on my part.

In the gospel today Jesus meets a man who is deaf and also has an impediment in his speech. It is his friends who bring him to Jesus. We note the sensitivity of Jesus. He takes the man apart in order to cure him. We see the gentleness of Jesus in dealing with the man in a very personal and caring way. He doesn’t want to embarrass him or treat him as a case. He treats him as another human being in need of respect and gentleness because of his situation.

But more than a physical healing Jesus allows him to go back into society freed to participate in all social and religious activities. The fact is that at the time of Jesus deafness and the inability to speak were seen as punishments from God. So in healing him Jesus gives him back his religious and social rights and so the man ceases to be marginalised.

In the text neither the man nor his friends get a name suggesting that the man stands for all of us who need to have our ears opened by God to hear what keeps us enslaved so as free us from things that harm us. As a community open to and really hearing the word of God we must show solidarity with those who suffer physically and socially. Today an obvious situation would be how we treat immigrants, asylum seekers, people with various diseases. Very often they are rejected. The gospel text then is fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah which says that ‘the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped’

In the gospel text we see too that Jesus has crossed the borders from the land of the Jews into what is known as pagan territory to bring the Good News to non-Jews, saying that God wishes to heal and care for all peoples irrespective of religious or other labels. This is an invitation to us to cross the borders to those who do not belong to us socially or religiously, like immigrants, refugees or people of other faiths [e.g. Islam] or indeed those who do not believe at all.

Jesus has gone back to his heavenly Father and he leaves the work of opening the ears of the blind and opening the tongues of the deaf to us. He is not asking us for success stories but rather he asks how we help others to hear by our compassionate listening, by our respectful attitudes. How do we speak to others? Is our manner of speech if in a courteous way not an invitation to others who may be aggressive and angry etc to learn a different way of speaking and addressing others?

Finally Jesus said to the deaf man who had also a speech impediment ‘ Ephphatha’ that is ‘Be opened’.

Is he not addressing the same words to us? An invitation also to us.

‘Be opened’ – to the goodness of other people, the innocence of babies, the gentleness of the old, the beauties of creation, the knowing smile or people in love, the so many gifts we receive from God daily.

‘Be opened’ to the unspoken cry for friendship of another, to the call of a lonely person living nearby, the call to share what is surplus to me and no longer needed instead of leaving them in my cupboard when I may never use them again.

Can I practicalise the ‘Be opened’ invitation of Jesus?

We all know that we ourselves and others will be the better for it.

For sure the deaf man with the impediment stands for each of us, woman and man. God speaks to us daily through others in so many ways. Do we hear what he is saying and are our lips continually free from negative comments and other impediments so as to use them to praise and thank God continuously and to encourage others who are down and to try to be positive in our words towards all?

“Lord Jesus, you alone can open the ears of our hearts and free the tongues of our spirits to glorify and praise you by being sensitive as Jesus was to those needing our kindness in whatever form you reveal this to us. Amen.”

Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA