God’s original intention in creating us is that we may live in a communion of love and joy with him and with each other, in this life and for all eternity. In this life of communion, we should be able to hear God who unceasingly communicates his love to us and then, in return, to sing the praises of our Maker and thank him for his mighty deeds. Unfortunately, the communication between humanity and God has been hampered from the beginning by the effects of original sin, and the actual sins of each of us continue to make it difficult. We are often deaf to God and we fail to fittingly proclaim his goodness, and so we do not experience the wonderful communion for which we are created.
Happily, our loving God, being rich in mercy, has always been intent, from the time of the fall of our first parents, on restoring humanity to himself. In his solicitude, he wants to break down the barriers that impede our hearing of his words of love. He wants to do away with all the effects of sin that distort our ability to praise him. In a word, he remains unchanged in his desire for a communion of love, life and joy with him. Hence, in today’s first reading God announces through the prophet Isaiah the good news of healing and salvation: “Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.… the ears of the deaf will be cleared; … the tongue of the mute will sing.”
What was an ancient and seemingly unrealistic prophecy becomes a reality in the Person of Jesus, as we read in today’s Gospel. He is the promised God who has come to clear the ears of the deaf and to free our tongues. He enters “the district of the Decapolis,” which was a Gentile territory. The people there are unlikely to be familiar with the great prophecy of Isaiah. It does not matter; Jesus will fulfill it anyway.
St. Mark presents a detailed description of how the Lord restores the powers of hearing and speech to a man whom some people present to him so that he may “lay his hand on him.” Normally Jesus healed the sick very publicly, but in this case, Mark tells us, he takes the man off by himself, away from the crowd. On one level, Jesus intends the healing to be for this man alone. At the same time, he shows us that he intuitively understands the unique needs of every one of us, and he deals with each of us in a unique and most appropriate way.
Jesus performs the healing in several steps. He puts his finger into the man’s ears, spits, touches his tongue, looks up to Heaven, groans and says to him, “Ephphatha!” “Be opened!” The effects are immediate: the man’s ears are opened; his speech impediment is removed, and he begins to speak clearly. We can see in this detailed healing process a foreshadowing of the Rite of Baptism with its various steps, one of which is the priest touching the mouth and ears of the newly baptized and saying, “Ephphatha”; then he prays that the new Christian may soon hear the word of God and profess faith in him. Through the Sacraments, beginning with Baptism, Jesus continues his work of restoring the human family to communion with God.
It is of great significance that Jesus physically touches the body – the flesh – of the man he heals. Tertullian, a Church Father from the third century, wrote about how it is through our flesh that we receive grace from Christ in each of the Sacraments: “The flesh is the hinge of salvation…. The flesh is washed so that the soul may be made clean. The flesh is anointed so that the soul may be consecrated. The flesh is signed so that the soul may be protected. The flesh is overshadowed by the laying on of hands so that the soul may be illumined by the Spirit. The flesh feeds on the Body and Blood of Christ so that the soul too may be filled with God” (Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, 8; cf. CCC 1015).
The man to whom Jesus restores the faculties of hearing that he may no longer be deaf to God and speech that he may profess the saving deeds of God is a symbol of every man and woman of every age. Christ, at Baptism, takes every one of us aside and touches our ears and mouth and says to us Ephphatha! He restores our interior faculties of hearing and speech that were disabled by original sin. When sin causes any further communication blockage, Christ restores us anew through the Sacrament of Penance.
Having been restored to the fullness of life and communion with God, we are meant to live in a communion of love and joy with all believers. St. James reminds us in the second reading that in our life of faith, there should be no partiality or unjust discrimination between the rich and the poor. God has chosen those who are poor in the world “to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom that he promised to those who love him.” The poor in spirit are those whose hearts are attuned to God; their interior faculty of hearing is opened to God. Anyone who neglects or disdains the poor thereby offends God and neighbor, and spiritually impoverishes himself.
The proper response to the generosity and mercy of the Lord is to share it generously with others, cheerfully and freely. Gratitude and generosity are evidence that our hearts have indeed been “opened” by the power of God’s grace at work in us. “He has done all things well” – and we want everyone to know about it!
In what ways am I deaf to God and fail to fittingly proclaim his goodness to others? How do I neglect or disdain the poor, therefore offending God and neighbor? How does God deal with me uniquely in the situations of my life?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 7. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.