Reflection for the 23rd Sunday. Year B. 2018
– By Fr Ugo Ikwuka
John is a remarkable Jehovah’s Witness preacher in the village. He is blind but he would always start his preaching by declaring: “I was blind but now I see!” With these catchy words, John demonstrates that in Christ, seeing means much more than physical sight, just as hearing means much more than physical perception of sounds.
As St. Augustine noted, Jesus is the word made flesh, hence every one of his actions should also be read symbolically so as to uncover the underlying spiritual significance. The healing miracles of Jesus were therefore never ends in themselves, they signal his power and desire to heal our underlying spiritual infirmities.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, a man is brought for Jesus to heal. He is deaf and his speech is impaired. Right from the “Let there be light!” at creation down through the prophets, and in Jesus, God speaks words of life that deserve only our listening response. But we don’t hear because we are spiritually deaf. Hearing the word of God is like hearing a pitch of certain frequency. You have to be attuned to the frequency to get it.
One major reason why we are deaf to the word of God is that there are so many voices competing for our attention; from people to the mass media, to the phone and the social media, with some of these intentionally interfering with that frequency to break the transmission with God.
Drowned in the sea of these voices, how can one hear that whispering voice of God that came to Elijah after he had sought it in vain in the whirlwind, the earthquake and the fire?
To heal that man who represents us all, Jesus had to take him away from the crowd, from the interfering distractions, to get him attuned to his frequency.
To hear the tender voice of God, we need to step aside into sanctuaries of refuge where the network is steady. This is what the sacred space of the church does for us, but more importantly, mindfulness teaches today that we can find this sanctuary within ourselves, at any moment, in the course of the busy day, if only we can pause for a moment.
However, our increasingly secular culture also means increasing distance from the church where this word of God is heard. More disturbingly, many churches today replicate the Pardoner in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, who compromises the word because he “preaches only for the love of money”.
The result is a generation of Christians who are ignorant of the word of God. But the result of physical deafness is not only hearing loss, it equally goes with speech impediment. If you cannot hear sounds of articulate speech, you can’t be expected to reproduce them. In other words, if you don’t clearly hear and receive the word of God, then you can’t speak it clearly either. You have spiritual speech impediment as do many Catholics, who can’t speak the word of God or discuss their faith with clarity and confidence.
In this sense, deafness and dumbness also include such conditions as the inability to communicate plainly with one’s neighbour and have good relationships, in which case, we are all deaf and dumb, more or less.
We are also deaf when we do not hear the cry for help around us, when we prefer to put up “double glaze” of indifference between us and our neighbour. We are equally deaf and dumb when we fail to break the silence, resentfully shutting ourselves in out of pride, while perhaps with just one kind word we could just turn things around, returning the peace and serenity that have eluded the home.
The healing of the man took place in an elaborate ritual of seven acts:
1. Jesus takes him aside.
2. He put his fingers into his ears.
3. He spits.
4. He touches the man’s tongue with spittle – yes, spittle is today confirmed to have healing properties.
5. He looks up to heaven and
6. he sighs – indicating that he identified with the people’s sufferings, that he wasn’t just performing a magical show.
7. Finally, he issues the healing command, “Ephphatha” (Be open!).
The Church has always seen in these gestures the seeds of the sacraments, thanks to which Jesus continues to “touch” us physically so as to heal us spiritually.
That is why at baptism, the minister similarly puts his fingers into the ears of the candidate and touches the tip of their tongue, repeating the words of Jesus: “Ephphatha!” – that is, “Be opened!”
As the man was healed, the people around were astounded and chorused: “He has done all things well; he makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.” They were echoing the beautiful words from Isaiah in the First Reading: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed, then the lame shall leap like a deer and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy.” The future promised by the prophet has now arrived.
Following his healing, not even Jesus could stop the man and the witnesses from proclaiming the Good News.
Indeed, if we are really excited about the Good News of Jesus Christ, if we are really excited about the experience of having the Christian vision of life, we would do exactly the same.