THE TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME SEPTEMBER 8-9, 2018


Jesus seems to be wandering. The gospel passage tells us that he and his disciples journeyed to the area around the Sea of Galilee by way of Tyre and Sidon. Tyre is way north of the Sea of Galilee, and Sidon is north of Tyre! This is quite a journey. It’s a long distance, and the journey could easily have taken several months. What was this meandering all about? I’m just guessing, but I think Jesus wanted some quality time with his inner circle, his closest disciples. The area he traveled was outside Jewish territory, in today’s Lebanon. His custom was to teach and preach as he traveled. So he probably continued this work along the way. But being outside Jewish territory afforded him some prime time with his disciples. I think he knew that when he would finally go south to Galilee he would face increased scrutiny and hostility from the Jewish authorities.

I can only wonder what he talked about with them. Was he trying to strengthen them for what would be coming? In the very next chapter when he brings his disciples to Caesarea Philippi, still on his way to Galilee, he opens up to them revealing that he must suffer, be rejected and killed. He also tells them that he will rise again in three days. When Peter tells him to stop saying such things, Jesus responds quite forcefully by telling Peter to stop thinking like a human. There’s a divine plan in motion. It will challenge Peter and the other disciples profoundly.

As often happens in the Gospels, Jesus links a teaching with a healing. We’re told that the people of the area brought a deaf man to him so that he could lay hands on him. The man wasn’t able to speak properly, so he must have been deaf from birth, or lost his hearing at a very young age. For hearing people it’s difficult to comprehend the isolation and frustration of the deaf.

Many years ago, when I was stationed in the Mid-West, I was introduced to a hearing impaired community that gathered in our house chapel for Mass. While people were signing to each other they also spoke. Some could speak quite clearly, others not so. Trying to speak with me, a hearing person who didn’t sign or understand sign, was difficult, and often led to very loud, frustrating “conversations.”

The deaf man must have been frightened and confused when this somewhat agitated crowd brought him to a man he didn’t recognize. In addition, he was the center of attention. I can’t imagine that he knew what they were trying to do for him. He didn’t know what anyone was saying. I can picture the man making strange noises as he tried to communicate with the crowd.

In this account, Jesus did something quite unusual. He took the deaf man away from the crowd. When he was alone with him, he placed his hands around his head, and gently put a finger into each of his ears. It seems that Jesus was directing healing energy into the man’s ears. In addition to this tender gesture Jesus spat onto his tongue. This is a bit strange to us! However, in Jesus’ day and culture, saliva was considered to have a curative quality. He wasn’t only preparing to cure the man’s damaged ears; he was going to give him the ability to speak.

Jesus was profoundly intimate as he touched this frightened and confused man. He was ready for the great moment. Jesus looked to heaven. This wasn’t the work of a mere physician or a healer. This was the work of God. With a word of command Jesus opened a new world to the man. “Ephphatha! Be opened!” This was as powerful as the very first command God spoke. “Let there be light!” God commanded, and there was light. He shouted, “Be opened!” And the man could hear! And he could speak! Jesus had called him from a terrifying world of silence. He would no longer suffer isolation in a crowd. He would connect; he would communicate. Jesus had given him a new life and opened the door to a new world. And just as the scripture writer reacted to that first great command of God with the exclamation, “And it was good,” so, the crowd exclaimed, “He has done all things well.”

This healing reflects the healing Jesus would impart on his close disciples. He had so much to share with them, to teach them. They needed to be able to hear his personal, intimate message. His long, slow journey through the area north of Galilee afforded him the opportunity to place his healing hands on them day after day. He was gently opening their ears to his remarkable message. He was inviting them to step into a new world, the kingdom of heaven.

After their return to Galilee, and his eventual arrest, execution and resurrection, they would realize that he had given them the gift, not only of hearing his message, but the gift of speech. After his resurrection he would commission them to proclaim the good news to Jews and Gentiles alike. They were to heal deaf ears, and free mute tongues. The gift they had been given, they were to give as a gift.

PRAYER

Jesus, I kneel before you, and bow my head. Touch my ears that I might hear your voice. Touch my tongue that I might speak your word. Hold my head in your warm, healing hands. Calm my fears. Liberate me from the screaming chaos that surrounds me. Give me the peace you promised and, dear Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.