TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Deaf to Heaven and Earth
First Reading ( Is 35:4-7 ): God's saving grace renews all things
Second Reading : ( James 2:1-5 ) : Do not show favoritism
Gospel : ( Mk 7:31-37 ) : Jesus cures a deaf -mute
-“The heart of mercy: everyone has one.”(1)
-“Long did I sigh and wipe away my tears, to see my people bowed by grief and fears.”(2)
-“One leaf can obstruct sight, two beans can block hearing; managing the body but not knowing the way, bound to be deaf to the heavens and earth.”(3)
“Jesus put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” (Mk 7: 33 – 37)
Usually Jesus spoke a word only and it was enough to cure a sick person. For example once when he cured a man with a withered hand, he just said, “Stretch out your hand!” and the man stretched it out and his hand was restored. ( See Mk 3:1-5)
This time Jesus used an external action, as putting his fingers into the man's ears. And he used material things, as saliva to touch the man's tongue. He also performed a special action –he looked up to heaven and sighed, then said the words, ‘ Be opened!’
This makes us think of the Sacraments. In the sacraments, Jesus is present in the priest who also uses a series of actions, words and external signs to arouse faith and hope in the participants. Then they can be better prepared to receive the graces our Lord bestows through the sacrament.
As the deaf-mute could not hear what Jesus said, the action of Jesus ‘looking up to heaven’ enabled him to see and feel more clearly that Jesus was praying for him and cared for him.
Looking up to heaven and ‘sighing’ showed Jesus' all-embracing compassion when he came in touch with human suffering. This is what is meant by “the heart of mercy: everyone has one;”(1) (The works of Mencius, Book II Gong-Sun Chou, Part I, Chap 8). The great poet QuYuan felt the same pity and compassion. “Long did I sigh and wipe away my tears, to see my people bowed by grief and fears.” (Li Sao)(2) How much more so the merciful and compassionate Jesus.
The steps Jesus took to cure the deaf-mute were consistent with psychological principles. Many people have speech difficulties because they have hearing problems: they cannot hear so naturally they cannot speak.
If we apply this principle to the problem of the ‘lay apostolate’, can we not say that if the faithful do not spread the gospel it is because they have been ‘deaf’ to it and so are ‘mute’ in preaching it? Think about it: if people have not heard the gospel how can they preach about it ? If what they have heard is unclear, incomplete or too vague, what can they preach? If they have not heard enough of the gospel or have too little experience, how are they able to cultivate sufficient zeal and motivation to preach it?
In preaching the gospel, that is, in evangelization, there is another point to heed and that is the content of our preaching. In the Tang dynasty Nie Yi Zhong wrote a little poem that is very apt: “One leaf can obstruct sight, two beans can block hearing. Managing the body but not knowing the way, we are bound to be deaf to the sky and earth.”(3) One leaf covering our eyes is enough to obstruct one's sight. Two small beans in the ears are enough to prevent one from hearing anything. But the real cause of deafness is not knowing ‘the ‘Way,’ that is, not understanding how to be persons of integrity. In other words, there are people who only know how to take care of physical life, but do not know how to care for their spiritual and moral life, or nurture a sense of cultural identity. Taking away the leaf or the beans will not necessarily provide an ability to see or hear, because if we do not know the ‘Way’, we will still be deaf persons.
The ‘Way’ is the content of our faith. The main point of faith is not what is taken away, but rather what is cultivated, what we receive and carry out in our lives. It is similar to planting. The main step is not pulling up the weeds, but rather what and how we plant the seed. Moreover, if we fear there are too many weeds, we must plant more seeds. For example, if we can plant a great variety of vegetables in the garden, will we not be able to lessen the weeds?
In the Catholic church we consider not only the sins we commit in thought, word or deed, but also the good deeds we should perform and do not.
A mother may sin if she does not direct and teach her children, a doctor may sin by being careless or failing to pursue further knowledge. These are sins of omission.
The Church fails to become localized or adopt the spirit of Vatican II; we fail to identify with one or other aspect of our three-fold identity as ‘Hong Kong person, Chinese person, Christian.’ Or we neglect to prepare well before teaching a class in doctrine, or we are so self-centered we forget or lack awareness to reach out to a despairing or lonely person. All these can be sinful. These are all elements an ideal world should have, the ‘Way’ in which the world can be filled with love.
Let us ask Jesus to open our ears so that we can hear his voice and his way of life. Thus our tongues will be loosened and we will be able to spread his Way.