23rd sunday in ordinary time
5th August 2021
Year B – Psalter week 3
Our gospel today is just seven verses long, and at first it seems to simply tell us the story of a single miracle by Jesus. Yet Mark, in his writing, certainly guided by the Holy Spirit, tells us the circumstances and details of this story to highlight several important messages from Jesus that whilst they were certainly meant for the people of the time, are just as relevant and important for us today.
Firstly, Mark tells us that Jesus appears to take a rather strange and impractical route to his final destination and travels through the Decapolis region. This region in now a Gentile territory and this fact is important as it reminds us that Jesus was on a boundary breaking mission to all nations. He didn’t just come to the Jews, or to any specific people, but brings his message to us and all mankind.
The deaf man’s friends completely believed in Jesus and had great trust in him and his mercy. They believed that if Jesus would just ‘lay his hands’ on their friend, he would be cured, and so we are reminded of the incredible power of trust and faith which compels Jesus to respond to their plea.
The man’s deafness, and his difficulty to speak, are symbolic of people of any age, or situation, who are deaf to the word and message of Jesus, and who may not reach out to others with words of love and understanding.
When the man is brought to Jesus, he then takes him away from the crowd and even from his companions, because for Jesus it was important that the man was not to be part of a show of greatness to impress a crowd, but that he was a person who was reaching out ‘to him’ who was in need of his help.
Jesus wanted the man to see that he had his undivided attention. By taking him away from the crowd, this also meant that the first words that the man ever heard were from Jesus himself, and the first words he ever spoke clearly, were to Jesus.
And that was not all, even the method of his healing was specific to this man and his situation. As he was deaf and could hardly speak, Jesus did not say anything to him or ask him anything, he put his fingers into the man’s ears and touched his tongue. Thus, he was able to make the man ‘feel’ what he could not hear. Then Jesus raised his eyes to heaven in prayer to show him that his healing was from God. It is indeed a uniquely touching and glorious moment`
Finally, after Jesus had healed the man who had placed his trust in him, he then told the crowd not to tell anyone about it, simply because he did not want to be seen as a wonder worker. Jesus seeks those who will follow him in faith, not spectators to miracle shows.
Of all the messages Mark shares with us in this short gospel passage, one of the important messages for us, is that to Jesus, we are all individual, unique, and special to him, and that he knows just what we each need, and how to help us – if we just trust in his love and mercy.
We need to try to be open in mind, heart, and spirit to a deeper one-to-one encounter with Jesus, who because of his love for us, chose to suffer and die for our sins and then rose again, so that we can one day be with him for eternity.
While this is a gospel about Jesus’ love and healing power, it goes even deeper than that, for in it we also find clues to help our understanding of the sacraments, when we recall the physical means used to heal the man, the use of spittle and touch and prayer.
Today the Church continues to celebrate the sacraments, handed down to us by Jesus, using physical means. In the Sacrament of Baptism, water and oil are used to show the power of the Holy Spirit. In the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, we are anointed with holy oil on the forehead and the hands. In the Eucharist, bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ which we receive.
The sacraments are themselves very physical things and we are a sacramental people, and we know and believe that God’s grace is given to us through these signs, by which we have a bodily, physical encounter with Christ, in the same way as the deaf man came into very physical contact with Christ in a very real example of the sacraments in action.
All throughout our lives we all need to come to Jesus in prayer and the sacraments, or sometimes like the deaf man’s friends, bringing those in need to him.
We need to regularly allow him to take us away from the crowd and the busyness of our own lives, so that we may also experience his undivided attention and his loving healing touch in our own lives.
The blind shall see, the deaf hear, the dumb sing for joy.
My soul, give praise to the Lord.
God chose the poor according to the world to be rich in faith.
He makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak
Speak, Lord, your servant is listening:
you have the message of eternal life.