We have a Gospel today that calls our attention – not just for the miracle, but the way Jesus accomplishes it.
He heals a deaf man, but not by a simple word or touch. He takes the man apart from the crowd, places his finger in the ears, touches his tongue with spittle, then groans inwardly saying, “Ephphatha – Be opened.”
All this indicates that Jesus is doing more than an ordinary healing. He is performing a work of liberation.
In order to liberate the man, Jesus has to first take him apart from the crowd. Something similar has to happen for us.
The opening lines of the gospel show us something typically true about Jesus, namely, he is always traveling. Up and down through Palestine he goes, through towns and villages, one after the other, pausing only for brief periods to pray alone with his Apostles or to visit friends.
In contrast we observe so many of the self-proclaimed ‘gurus’ of our day who are hidden away with their followers in compounds, barricaded behind high security gates with guards and minders. Jesus was not like this; his mission was the world. His mission is the world the same way today.
Jesus was a man for all, as God is for all. If, at times, Jesus hid himself from the crowds it was mostly to strengthen himself with prayer for the arduous teaching and healing journeys which lay ahead of him.
And so he is traveling when a man is brought to him.
So they brought Jesus a man, a deaf man with an impediment in his speech, and they asked Jesus to heal him, to lay his hands on him. They brought Jesus a man .. they asked Jesus to heal him .. .I would love to have them (whoever they were) in my parish – people who bring people to Jesus.
The crowd is usually not very helpful to Jesus, in fact, it often gets in the way, blocking the door to the house for the paralytic, obscuring Zacchaeus’ view and making him climb a tree, telling poor Bartimaeus to keep quiet… . Today we hear: They brought him to Jesus.
Jesus takes him aside in private, away from the crowd.
Notice how Mark insists on this action of Jesus by repeating it three times – Jesus took him aside, in private, away from the crowd.
This is not a performance, not for a public applause – this is GOD AT WORK! Aside in private. In order to liberate the man, Jesus has to first take him apart from the crowd. Something similar has to happen for us.
Our mass culture is like a spider that casts a sticky web over us. Contemporary society operates on two assumptions: First, that existence is random, accidental. And, second, that being male or female has put in us urges that it is only natural to act on. The best you can do, according to our culture, is to protect yourself from diseases and unwanted consequences of your actions, such as having a child.
Blessed Pope John Paul speaks about this as the culture of death. Jesus wants to liberate us from it. He knows that our existence has a purpose, that you and I aren’t created at random, but by a plan. And that God created us male and female for a purpose. To realize that purpose, Jesus has to break through the spell, the web that culture of death has cast over us.
The deaf and dumb man, like all those in the gospels who are brought, or who come to Jesus for healing, represents at the same time each one of us and poor suffering humanity as a whole. In this way the gospel operates at a number of different levels of meaning and effectiveness and fruitfully sustains our meditation.
As Jesus stands alone with the man, holding his face between his hands to heal him, we can see Jesus embracing the whole of creation in his tender touch, gazing with profound compassion into our eyes, longing to heal us all.
Jesus wants to liberate us, but we have to do something in turn. I’d like to put it in the form of a “New Year’s Resolution.” The beginning of a new school year, for many of us, is the start of a new year. I ask you to make a resolution to set aside time each day, alone with Jesus. Try to commit yourself to at least 20 minutes a day of quiet prayer. Come to Mass every Sunday. Can you do that?
To liberate someone Jesus needs that person’s collaboration. We’re not talking about something simple and sweet. No, prayer involves us in a spiritual battle. Notice that, before healing the man, Jesus groans deeply. That’s a sign of struggle. To perform a work of liberation Jesus needs our full attention. Can you give him 20 minutes of your day?an hour every weekend?
Jesus particularly desires to liberate young people. He wants you to know that you didn’t arrive here by accident. On the contrary, you are loved – deeply loved. God has given a destiny no one else can fulfill – but it will involve a battle. And the ancient enemy has a new weapon – the culture of death. He will throw anything he can against you – to keep you from your purpose.
The culture of death causes young men to avoid commitment, responsibility. And it encourages young women to use their femininity to feel desired, needed.
A guy might say, “I’m doing OK. I’ve got plans to study and get a job. What’s the big deal if play video games and hang out with my buddies? Why should I take on a bunch of hassles?”
And a young woman might say, “I like being in control. Why should I go back to old restrictions?”
Well, Jesus does not want to restrict anyone. Just the opposite – he wants to open up new possibilities. Think about the deaf man. He had never heard sounds so he did not know what he was missing. But when Jesus takes him apart and performs that work of liberation, all of a sudden he hears the voices of animals and children. For the first time, he hears the sound of wind, water, music, songs and stories. And above all he hears a wonderful voice. So precious is that voice that the man forever remembers the first word – Ephphatha, be opened, from Jesus.
We can see also that deaf man is me. The Master clasps my face in his divine hands and looks into my eyes, seeing all my need for healing, liberation and redemption.
The deaf mute cannot hear him and so he communicates his intentions through touch. He puts his fingers into the man’s ears. Is Jesus thinking: It is not just to my voice I want to open your ears but to my word?
Then Jesus takes some spittle from his mouth and places it on the man’s tongue. Is Jesus thinking: Soon I will be able to place on your tongue not just my spittle so that you may speak but my whole self, body, blood, soul and divinity so that you may live forever.
Jesus liberated the man. The capacity to hear and to speak gave him a new horizon. He could relate to others – and to God – in a new way. He could now listen to others and speak to them. And to praise God with his lips.
As he did for the deaf man, Jesus wants to do for us – to open a world of meaning and purpose. Especially for our young people, he wants to free you from the culture of death. He wants you to realize the meaning of your masculinity or femininity: the power to make a total gift to the other and by that gift open yourself to life.
We want Jesus’ liberation for young people – and we older folks also need healing. Like the people in today’s Gospel, we know that only Jesus can give real freedom.
Jesus wants you and me to come apart from the crowd, from our poisonous culture. Give him your full attention – 20 minutes a day, an hour every weekend for Mass. Allow Jesus to place his finger into your ear and to touch your tongue. To perform a work of liberation.