23RD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR – SEPTEMBER 10, 2000 – BLESSED SACRAMENT
In our first reading today we hear from the prophet Isaiah a prophecy of the Messianic age, when God will come to save his people : “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.” The text prepares for our Gospel reading when Jesus heals the man who was deaf and mute.
In the Gospels the miracles of Jesus are never presented simply as wonder-stories, designed to attract attention the way a magician’s feats might. They are always signs that Isaiah’s prophesy was being fulfilled, embodiments of the in-breaking Kingdom. The evidence that Jesus performed such signs is overwhelming in the historical record, as my former colleague John Meier has exhaustively shown. It is only a prejudice against the very idea of the miraculous that has led some people to deny these accounts the historical trust that they give to accounts of Jesus’s words.
Anyone who is familiar with the baptismal rite of the Catholic Church will recognize in today’s Gospel one of the auxiliary moments of that rite. After the person has been baptized and anointed, and after a white garment and a lit candle have been given, there comes what is called “the Ephphetha,” a little rite named after the Aramaic word Jesus himself used in today’s Gospel: “Be opened,” it means. The priest or deacon touches the ears and mouth of the person and says: “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.” (In the former rite, he even used his own saliva, thus also imitating Christ.)
This spiritual application of the act of Jesus should be taken seriously, and not trivialized. There are people who are intellectually, spiritually, existentially deaf, unable to hear certain notes on the human and spiritual scale. I know of a very young child whose deafness has only recently been diagnosed and repaired, and in the space of a month sounds have begun to babble out of his mouth and he is on the way to forming words. He had been mute because he had been deaf. One must be able to hear before one is able to speak. There are people like that in other respects, people who need to hear what God has said in order to be able to speak in the way the revelation of his word alone makes possible. We may even remember times when we were, even deliberately, deaf to certain words, unwilling or unable to receive them into our personal worlds, and our own words, what we typically spoke about or said, reflected that void in the music and poetry of life.
If we have had such experiences, then we may insert ourselves into today’s Gospel account and praise God that he has given us to hear what God has had to say and that we have been enabled, however babblingly, to begin to form the words that tell of the great blessings he has brought us. If so, then when in a moment we make our own the words of the Creed, we are ourselves demonstrating what the crowd said upon seeing this sign of Jesus: “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”