23rd Sunday (B)

He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

The Word of God is an invitation to experience the healing power of God and be transformed by His divine intervention in our lives. Our ears have to be opened to listen and our hearts have to be enlightened by the Holy Spirit to understand the word of God. As a result of this experience we need to become humble instruments of healing and rendering voice to the voiceless and caring love to the needy and the marginalized in our society.

The first reading taken from Isaiah is a messianic prophecy and it is given at a time of returning to their homeland from Babylonian exile. The Lord God’s message expresses the promised redemption in terms of health, healing and wellbeing for the disabled. Through Isaiah, He assures them that He blesses their return, and that they should be confident and not fearful. The prophetic admonition opens with one of the most frequent Biblical commands: “Fear not.” The life-giving streamsof water bursting forth in the desertsymbolize whatever is needed to achieve peace and fullness of life. “Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.  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.” These words echo the compliment given to Jesus by the people who have experienced the healing power of Jesus. “He has done all things well; he makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.”

At the center of today’s Gospel passage, there is a small word that sums up the whole message and all the work of Christ. Saint Mark writes it in the same language in which Jesus pronounced it: Ephphatha”,which means: “Open up”. There is an inner closure which concerns every person’s deep core and that the Bible calls the “heart”. This is what Jesus came to “open “in order to enable us to live fully the relationship with God and with the others. This is why this little word,  Ephphatha” summarizes in itself the whole mission of Christ. He became man so that we, made interiorly deaf and dumb by sin, become able to hear the voice of God, the voice of Love that speaks to our heart, and thus learn to speak the language of love and to communicate with God and with the others. For this reason, the word and the gesture of the “Ephphatha ” have been included in the Rite of Baptism, as one of the signs that explain its meaning.

The healing of a deaf man with a speech impedimentis to be seen in a culture where physical disabilities and sickness were commonly interpreted as signs of a person’s sinfulness (as a “curse” from God), many Jews would have considered this man to be stricken by God — a sinner. Hence, Jesus shows his tender consideration for the weak by leading the man away from the crowd so as not to embarrass him. The miracle is described in seven ritual-like steps: (1) Jesus leads the man away from the crowd   (2) puts his fingers into the man’s ears  (3) spits on his own fingers  (4)  touches the man’s tongue  with the spittle (5) looks up to heaven  (6)  sighs  (7)  and speaks  the healing command: “Ephphatha”  (“be opened.”)   Six centuries earlier, Ezekiel had prophesied, “that day your mouth shall be opened, and you shall be dumb no longer” (Ez 3:27).

God’s love in action:What we see is not simply the healing of a physical defect, but a concrete sign of the transforming power of God’s Love. The power of God’s Love is working in our lives to transform sorrow into joy, sickness into health, death into new life. The dumb man who is unable to communicate also symbolizes our own inability to communicate with God. In order to perceive and proclaim God’s message, we need to be transformed. The miracle is not only about the physical healing of a person who was deaf and dumb. It also points to the opening of a person’s ears so that he may hear the word of God and loosening of his tongue so that he may speak his profession of Faith in Jesus. The miracle has great relevance to us, because a person can have perfect hearing, and yet not hear the word of God, have perfect speech, and yet be unable to make an act of faith.

A challenge for the Church: All three readings speak of a God who is compassionate to the voiceless and the afflicted.  Today, however, many of us have lost the ability to recognize the voice of God calling us for action in our modern society.  We are asked to give hearing and voice to the deaf and the mute.   The person healed became a witness to the power of God. A Church that is to bear witness to the example of Jesus’ love must not neglect “those who are bowed down.”   Through its healing presence the Church must give voice to the voiceless.

We need to allow Jesus to heal our spiritual deafness and muteness. We may find it hard to speak to God in prayer and harder still to hear Him speaking to us through the Bible and through the Church.  Let us ask God’s help to open our ears in order that we may hear Him while reading the Bible, and praise and worship Him loudly in our family prayer and in our public worship by participating in the Holy Mass, singing with the choir and praying with the congregation.