6 September 2009: 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 35, 4-7; Psalm 145; James 2, 1-5; Mark 7, 31-37
When Jesus arrived back in the regions of Galilee, He came into the district of the Decapolis, and there they brought to him a man who was deaf and who had an impediment in his speech. Usually, the deaf and the mute go together. The person’s inability to hear made his speech so imperfect. Here we see how Jesus treats people.
First, Jesus showed some physical healing. Jesus put his hands in the man’s ears and touched his tongue with spittle. In those days, people believed that spittle had a curative quality. Seutonius, the Roman historian, tell us of an incident in the life of Vespasian, the Emperor, that a certain man who was blind and lame came to Vespasian and craved for a remedy for his infirmities, and thereby shown in his dreams that all he needs is spittle or saliva (Seutonius, Life of Vespasian). This belief exists today. When our cut our hands, the natural reaction is to put the wound in our mouth. In the Philippines, we chew guava leaves and put it on the wound. In whatever case, people who are sick want healing.
But not all those who are deaf, mute or blind want healing. After all, begging is an easier way to eke out a living. We hear on television stories of many prisoners who would intentionally commit crimes in order to be brought back to prison. Being in prison has advantages: food is provided. There are many people who in their heart of hearts do not dislike their weaknesses. They do not wish to lose their sins especially if they derive pleasure and comfort from it. For those who are involved in graft and corruption, they do not actually wish for its abolition. Alcoholics and drug addicts do not wish for freedom from these addictive substances. Many people do not desire healing. Or else, the very source of their relief and enjoyment vanishes.
Today is a day of healing and growth. It is a time when we bring to God our wounds and illnesses, and ask for healing. It is a time when we should take a moment to think about what we need to bring to Jesus for healing; to identify our pain and wounds; and to accept the fact of our deafness and brokenness. St. Ignatius in the Spiritual Exercises recommends that we should be clear with the desire we request of God and that the grace being asked is articulated. Are we sincere and genuine enough to desire healing? What would you say to Jesus if He asks you what you need?
Second, he took the man aside from the crowd, all by himself. Here is the tender considerateness. Deaf people are always a little embarrassed. In some ways it is more embarrassing to be deaf than to be blind. A deaf person knows he cannot hear; and when someone in a crowd shouts at him and tries to make him hear, in his excitement he becomes all the more helpless. Jesus showed tender consideration for the feelings of a man for whom life was very difficult.
It is interesting to note that Jesus answered his desire, not in the streets, but alone. You see, it is only when we are faced with ourselves and when we are alone with Jesus that we are able to be honest with ourselves. It is when we are alone that our wounds stare at us closely. We can hide our wounds and dark secrets from a crowd; we can make promises to God like an avid fan for all to hear; and often we shout to everyone what they would like to hear, so that they will appreciate us. We can loudly claim our commitment to Christ in the middle of a spiritual frenzy and when we are emotionally charged like many of those who went into a charismatic fellowship, or a retreat that employs letters from parents and significant people to highlight affirmation as an experience of God’s love. But what matters is what happens when the crowd is gone, when the emotional high has dipped, and when we return alone to the privacy of our rooms, if not our existential isolation and loneliness
A wound or any disease can consolidate and reveal our true character, our true self, our real home. Our wound can thus bring us to who we are, to that inner home which we yearn for. And thus healing happens in the passage of time, when we face ourselves squarely and answer truthfully the questions raised by our wounds. Carl Jung said, “If you get rid of the pain before you have answered its questions, you get rid of the self along with it.”
Today is the time for self-awareness, and for answering the questions of our sickness, our pain, and our brokenness. What are the areas in my life to which I am deaf? What are people saying about me, and I do not listen to them, because they are painful. Although many truths in our lives are painful to accept, the very awareness of these wounds helps us to see our true selves. When our ears are opened to the truth of our lives, healing happens.