When we are spiritually crippled, we are more seriously in danger of losing our salvation than when we are physically handicapped

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 35:4 - 7A

Thus says the LORD: Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you. 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. Streams will burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe. The burning sands will become pools, and the thirsty ground, springs of water.

James 2:1 - 5

My brothers and sisters, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. For if a man with gold rings and fine clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Sit here, please, ” while you say to the poor one, “Stand there, ” or “Sit at my feet, ” have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Did not God choose 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?

Mark 7:31 - 37

Again Jesus left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis. And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!”— that is, “Be opened!” — And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly. He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it. They were exceedingly astonished and they said, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

Prophesied by Isaiah, the oracle (First Reading) described the time when Israel would be delivered from its oppressors (Assyria and Babylon) but it was also pointing to the anticipated time of the coming Messiah. Jesus claimed the prophecy to Himself when He answered the question of the disciples of John the Baptist (Mt 11:4-5; Lk 7:22). Yet this prophecy extends even further for it also foreshadows His second glorious coming with the new heaven and new earth.

Today’s Gospel Reading is one of those prophetic signs of His first coming, signs that accompanied the arrival of the messianic age of blessings. It reminds us of three similar miracles (Mk 7:33, 8:23; Jn 9:6) in which Jesus, by means of physical actions, cured the afflicted persons. The effect of Jesus’ physical acts not only confirmed the healing of the corporeal maladies but also the restoring of the impaired spiritual capacities. Bodily infirmities were very often seen as symbols reflecting spiritual impediments, that is, what is visible exteriorly corresponds to what is spiritual interiorly. Since faith comes through our senses, therefore physical blindness or deafness that obstructs our perception will undoubtedly affect our power of knowledge and understanding. But spiritual blindness or deafness is far more destructive, “They may look and see but not perceive, and hear and listen but not understand” (Mk 4:12) (cf Isaiah 6:9; Mt 13: 13-15; Jn 12:37-41). These spiritual defects not only deprive us of receiving truth but also prevent us from searching for it. When we are spiritually crippled, we are more seriously in danger of losing our salvation than when we are physically handicapped.

In Hebrew, “to hear” refers not only to auditory perception but also includes “to do, to obey, to be obedient”. The disobedient Israelites who refused to listen were called “the people who are deaf though they have ears.” (Isaiah 43:8). Jesus often concluded His teachings with these words: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mt 11:15; 13:9, 43; Mk 4:9, 23; Lk 8:8, 14:35) and that is “to act on what is heard”. But how can we truly put into actions what we have heard if our ears are closed? Our ears are closed when we do not want to listen to God’s Word or selectively hear what is convenient to us. Our tongues will then be tied when we are deaf (like the deaf man in the Gospel) so that instead of giving praise to God and proclaiming the Good News, our tongues become a nuisance to us (cf James 3:5-10).

Dear friends, no doubt that the healing of the deaf man was an amazing miracle, but what is more amazing is what Jesus can do to our spiritual problems, that is, restoring our ears to hear gladly God’s Word and enabling our tongues to profess boldly our faith. Let Jesus’ word “Ephphatha” open our ears and loosen our tongues. Let Him “touch” us and transform our lives into a new one just as He did it to the deaf man.

Posted: September 6, 2015

May Tam

May Tam, Bachelor of Social Science (University of Hong Kong), Master of Theological Studies (University of Toronto)

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