23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Fr. Simham)
Isaiah prophesying about the Messianic times said, “Look, your God is coming, …….Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf be unsealed ……….” That is our first reading. And in the Gospel today, Jesus heals a man who was deaf and dumb. He restores his hearing and speech and all the people say “He has done all things well” referring back Genesis when after each day’s creation God found everything to be good. From all this, it is natural and easy to say that Jesus is the promised Christ, the anointed one or the Messiah and conclude our reflection. But doing this is like someone coming to SEA-TAC airport having a look around from the Airport building and saying “Enough! Lets go back. I have seen Seattle.” No! Seattle is not just SEA-TAC airport. There is something more.
In the same way miracles of Jesus are not miracles for miracles’ sake. Or, Jesus never performed miracles to prove himself. But they were always signs pointing out to some other greater reality or some other spiritual reality or mission which he came to accomplish. The Hebrew and Greek words used from the word miracle in the gospels usually means ‘signs.’ So the miracles of Jesus and this particular miracle is a sign that is pointing out to a greater mission for Which Jesus the messiah has come. Through this he is pointing out to a healing of different kind of deafness and dumbness which was his mission. Even when Isaiah prophesied that the messiah will make the deaf hear and dumb speak, he was referring to a different type of deafness and dumbness than the physical ones that will be healed. To understand this we need to understand the people to whom he was prophesying and what was their situation. He was prophesying to the people of Israel who were in Babylonian Exile. Why they were in exile? If we read the preceding chapters of Isaiah to this , we will come to know that they were in exile because they refused to listen to the word of God, his commandments and to his prophets. They were deaf to God and his prophets. Hence this exile. God gave them into enemies’ hands.
So, when Isaiah was speaking about the restoration of speech and hearing, naturally he was speaking of the restoration of their willingness or ability to hear God’s word and speak about it. So also, when Jesus restored the speech and the hearing of deaf and dumb man, he was pointing out to his greater mission of restoring man’s ability to listen to God’s word which is present among them incarnate in his person and proclaim that word. And the end result of this miracle points out to this truth. The man healed goes out and proclaims about the Word, Jesus. And also in the gospels we often hear Jesus saying “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mt. 11/15, Mark 4:23; 7:16; Matthew 11:15; 13: 9, 34; 25:29; Luke 8:8; 13:9; 21:4.) It is not an empty ritual refrain but an urgent encouragement that listeners need to listen with more than their ears with spiritual apprehension. It calls for holistic listening. In the Gospel, “Hearing” implies: listening, understanding, making the message one’s own and living it out in word and action.
So, this miracle represents the fundamental work of restoring man’s capability to listen to God and speak to him and speak about him, which was lost by Adam. Adam failed to listen to God’s word and so he ate the forbidden fruit. And this deafness to God also made him to go and hide himself from God instead of talking to him. He also lost his ability to speak freely to God. And Jesus’ mission is to restore these things that were lost. And he has done it perfectly well. “He has done all things well.”
Now, what does it mean for us ? If we are honest, many of us are not very good at either listening or speaking, where God is concerned. Some of us have even stopped hearing. In catechism class we heard all about the 7 sacraments, the 10 commandments of God, the 6 commandments of the Church, the 7 deadly sins and so we now feel that there is nothing more to learn. Nothing more to speak. Alas, all of us are deaf and dumb when it comes to the matters of God, certain times. Some of us are as Catholics are highly qualified in our secular profession but are basically illiterate in our faith. We can speak for hours about other things but when asked to speak about God, we are dumb. We don’t know much about him. We don’t read his word.
We live in a noisy world, where T.V, internet, I-pods blast our ears with so many things that we naturally lose the capacity to hear God’s voice in the stillness of our heart and conscience. Yes, we are often deaf and we are often dumb. We have lost the capacity both to hear and to speak. We have lost the ability to recognize the voice of God calling to us in the many changing situations, both good and bad, of our society.
So, let us pray today for the gift of hearing, to hear the voice of God calling to us in everything that will happen this day. Let us pray for the gift of speech, that is, to be so filled with the liberating experience of knowing Jesus that we simply cannot refrain from sharing that experience with all those around us. Let this be our prayer today. Amen.
Fr. Showreelu Simham