23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
The passage in today’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah has naturally been taken to point to the work of Jesus. Isaiah foresees the signs of the coming of the Lord.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,The ears of the deaf be cleared;Then will the lame leap like a stag,Then the tongue of the mute will sing.
Of course, we know that Jesus did all of these things. He gave sight to the blind man. He told the paralytic to take up his mat and walk. And, in today’s gospel, we see that he cleared the ears of the deaf man, and enabled him to speak for the first time. In this passage we see Jesus in his role of healer.
What was the occupation of Jesus? We know that people referred to him as the carpenter’s son, and we assume that he learned and practiced the trade of Joseph as a young man. We know that his disciples called him a rabbi or teacher, and no matter what your belief, you would have to admit that Jesus was one of the greatest teachers of all time. Yet, in today’s reading we see him as a healer or physician.
Mark relates that some people approached Jesus and asked him to heal a man who can neither hear nor speak. Actually, they asked him to lay his hands upon the man, a traditional method used at the time to cure the sick. It might be instructive to pay close attention to what Jesus did.
First, he put his fingers into the man’s ears, and then then apparently spit on the man’s tongue. To us, spitting might seem distasteful, but scholars tell us that it was not unusual for Greek and Hebrew physicians to employ spittle in their attempts to heal. Then, Jesus looked up to heaven and groaned, and uttered the command, “ephphatha” which Mark tells us means “be opened.” The result was miraculous. The man immediately began to hear and speak plainly.
We can only guess at why Jesus went through this procedure. You would think that he just could have done it with a word or a thought. Maybe, there is a lesson for us all in his way of healing. He seems to act as a conduit or connector between God and the deaf man. He puts his fingers in his ears as if he was putting cables on a dead car battery. Then, he looks to heaven as if to turn on the engine that will charge the battery. The power surges through Him into the man and he comes to life.
I am not offering this as a scientific or theological explanation of the healing. No one can really explain a cure like this one. Nevertheless, there is a good analogy here. We are all asked to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. We are all asked to be healers. We are all asked to be involved or “hands on’ healers, and not just distant well wishers. We are all asked to be the conduit through which divine grace or power can flow through to those in need of healing.
Sometimes those in need around us seem like hard cases beyond repair. But in today’s second reading St. James tells us not to just take the easy cases but to be a means by which God’s grace can reach those in most need. The rich with gold rings and fine clothes do not need our care and attention. We must be just as attentive to the poor in both body and soul. Just as Jesus cured the poor deaf and dumb man, James tells us not to make distinctions of persons.
I love the animal stories of James Herriot, the famous British veterinarian, who spent his life caring for thousands of farm and domestic animals in rural Yorkshire. Herriot must have had plenty of ordinary cases but the stories he tells in his books are about those animals most in need of care. He treated them all, the healthy and the weak, with equal care and compassion. He came to realize that each animal had a value no matter the wealth or status of the owner. In his books Herriot used this little poem that obviously meant a lot to him.
All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful, The Lord God made them all.
It would be great if we could follow Herriot’s example in dealing with those we encounter every day in our ordinary lives.
Reading 1. Isaiah 35: 4-7a
Reading II. James 2: 1-5
Gospel. Mark 7: 31-37 (Ephphatha—Be Opened)