Sep 8, 2012

23rd Sunday: Do all things well

El Greco: Healing of the deaf man

"Be opened"
Is 35: 4 - 7a,
Jm 2: 1-5
Mk 7 31 - 37
How would you want to be remembered after you die? What sort of phrase would you want etched on your grave marker? “He was a great guy?”  “She loved her family?” “He loved to fish?” “Dear Grandmother?” How about – “He/She has done all things well?”

The Gospel passage for this Sunday ends with that phrase in reference to Jesus: “He has done all things well.  He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” It isn’t the etching on Jesus’ tomb or a reference to the resurrection.  Rather it is the commentary of the crowd who note Jesus power of healing a man who is deaf and unable to speak clearly.  Yet, it also seems to be an assessment of his overall ministry of healing, compassion, and reaching out to the unlovable. But, wouldn’t that be a wonderful commentary on any of our lives? “He/she has done all things well.”

Indeed we see so in the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus.  In today’s healing story we see Jesus on the move from town to town. Although there was a decidedly contemplative aspect to the life of Jesus, he clearly did not live a cloistered life, waiting for people to come to him.  The Gospels assure us that he was on a mission and so he moves today from “. . . the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis . . .” That is from what was Gentile territory in the north of Israel, into Jewish territory, and back again to the Gentiles.  His mission was to all, not just to the chosen.

And so he encounters a man deaf and mute who was brought to him perhaps by friends or by loving family members.  The ancient belief that such a physical handicap was the result of sin or the result of demon possession is challenged by our modern understanding of medicine and genetics, something unknown in the time of our Lord.

Yet, the scene has the flavor of an exorcism.  Jesus spits on the ground, touches the man’s ears and tongue thereby opening them and exorcises the presence of evil to supplant it with the good power of God.  Jesus spits on the ground, in the ancient practice of warning the devil, and then he groans in an almost angry manner.  You can hear it.  A deep, perhaps unnerving sound from him not unlike the shout he exhibited at the tomb of Lazarus as he called him forth from the dead (Jn 11: 41-44). He groans he shouts at the power of evil and takes charge. He claims this moment as his own with divine power.

In an Aramaic word “Ephphatha,” he commands the ears of the man to “Be opened” and immediately the man can hear and speak plainly. To hear and to speak the truth of God is the mission of Jesus and now this man receives that same mission.  He too can now hear the truth and speak the truth of who Jesus is not just for him, a Gentile, but for all who would listen.  Indeed, as the astonished crowd proclaimed, Jesus has done all things well.

Our first reading from Isaiah is for us Christians a foreshadow of the sign of the Messiah’s presence.  He will not be a military or political leader.  He will not push the Romans into the Sea in order to free Israel.  Rather his mission is loftier.  His mission is to put fractured relationships back in order.  To gather what has been scattered. To restore the brokenness of creation and bring people to hope.

To open the “. . . eyes of the blind, the ears of the deaf be cleared . . . the lame leap like a stag, the tongue of the mute will sing . . .” Poetic imagery to be sure but the message is one of restoration. In the miracle stories of Jesus, as we hear this Sunday, we see constant promise that what God has guaranteed in his Son he has delivered.

One may see in his ministry a kind of social justice to be sure. The letter of St. James today speaks: “Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom . . .” Jesus’ turned the social order of things inside out not in a violent or revolutionary way as history has shown us in such events as the French Revolution of the 18th century.  Rather, his revolution is one of the heart and soul. 

He healed this man of his deafness and gave him the ability to go and tell others of the good news that God has visited his people in Christ Jesus.  He restored him to acceptable social order then gave him the ability to carry on his own mission. The way to peace and unity is through faith in Christ and his Gospel.

But, what of those who remain blind, deaf, mute?  A simplistic understanding of the Christian message may cause us to feel that Jesus’ miracle stories are mere myth.  However, we who are entrusted through baptism with a mission are called to carry on the work of Christ.  As the Church does through its sacramental system, its charitable organizations, and our active parish life – we become through God’s grace those who reach out to the unlovable, the forgotten, and the defenseless.

It is in our gathering for the Eucharist each weekend that we see our mission fulfilled. We come from many parts to be one Body in Christ. Yet, do we hear?

We are all deaf and mute at times.  Sometime our fears hold us back.  Sometimes it is our ignorance or laziness.  Other times, we may hear about a more comfortable Gospel that speaks more about prosperity and less about the Cross of Christ.  Jesus didn’t say, “Pick up your Teddy Bear and follow me.” We may be more persuaded by the Gospel of success or politics rather than the Word of God. 

Where am I deaf?  When I speak of values and morals do others hear that I am a follower of Jesus Christ or do I just sound like the latest fad or proclaiming what is socially acceptable to the masses?

Will others someday be able to say of me:  “He/she did all things well?”