14 September 2009

Are you spiritually deaf?

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - 6 September 2009

Readings: Is 35:4-7a; Ps 146:7, 8-9, 9-10; Jas 2:1-5; Mk 7:31-37

The miracle account in the Gospel reading today is interesting for its explicitly physical detail. The people brought to Jesus a deaf-mute. He took him away from the crowd, put his fingers into the man’s ears, spitted, touched the man’s tongue with his spittle-laden finger, looked up, groaned and said “Ephphata” – “Be opened”. And the man came to hear and speak thereafter.

The First Reading, from Isaiah, prophesies the healing of the deaf as one of the signs of the coming Messiah. At the end of the Gospel story, the people cry out in joy and wonder, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak”, echoing the prophet Isaiah.

The miracle stories of Jesus were preserved not only for their historical value but also for their symbolic value. This was also the method of interpretation favored by the fathers of the early Church. And so the physical deafness of the man was made symbolic of the spiritual deafness that afflicts many.

Salvation is effected through the Word, and communicated through the preaching of the Good News. Spiritual deafness and muteness block salvation from happening. Thus the physical details of this miracle story is a fitting metaphor on how Jesus became flesh, subject to the conditions of the flesh, connected Himself to humanity, and earned for us our salvation.

This makes this story even more relevant today in a world where so many are unwilling to listen to the demands of the Gospel or are drowned by the noise of competing ideas and priorities.

So today we pause and reflect:
1. Is my daily schedule of activities and concerns leaving me too tired and stressed, and with hardly any time or energy for prayer and silence?
2. Is the amount of information that comes my way through the various media leaving me unable to discern and choose the things that are really important?
3. Is my desire for a better life and greater accomplishments leaving me unfulfilled, shallow, and insensitive to the needs of my neighbor?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, you may already be exhibiting symptoms of spiritual deafness.

Here’s a story:

A senior priest, a young priest, and the bishop were discussing about work and walking to lunch when they stumbled upon an antique oil lamp. They rub it and a genie comes out. The genie says, “I'll give each of you just one wish.”

“Me first! Me first!” says the senior priest. “I want to be in Europe, enjoying a nice leisurely vacation, without a care in the world.” Puff! He's gone.

“Me next! Me next!” says the young priest. “I want to be in the Caribbean, relaxing on the beach, then partying in the evenings.” Puff! He's gone.

“OK, you’re up,” the genie says to the bishop. The bishop says, “I want those two back in the office after lunch.”

Moral of the story: “Listen first to what your boss will say.”

Our being too involved with our personal priorities and the concerns of this world, and especially our slavery to sin, make us close our senses to spiritual realities and lose our connection with God.

Let's not forget another bad thing about spiritual deafness: it causes spiritual muteness. When we no longer hear the Word, we also stop spreading the Gospel. When we don’t listen anymore to the Spirit, we stop proclaiming God and His salvation.

So "Ephaphata”, “Be opened”, says Jesus to the deaf man... and to us.

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