The miracle that Jesus performs in today’s Gospel is much more than it might first appear to be on the surface. A man who is deaf and has a speech impediment is brought before Our Lord, and the people beg Jesus to lay his hand on the man to heal him. Jesus takes him aside, away from the crowd. He touches the man’s ears and tongue and looking up to heaven, he groans out loud, “Be opened!” The Gospel says, “And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly.”
For the man who was healed, it must have been like the beginning of a whole new world. To be deprived of hearing and speaking is to be, in a sense, locked out of some of life’s most beautiful moments. Communication with another human being, acquiring knowledge and understanding, being able to go beyond ourselves, even the ability to love and to be loved depend so much on hearing and speaking. For the deaf mute in today’s Gospel, these wonderful life experiences were either greatly diminished or completely prevented by his disabilities. Being healed by Jesus must have been like some kind of indescribable new freedom. By healing him, Jesus had opened a door and brought the man out of a prison of isolation.
But there is more in the Gospel than the story of this man being healed. The story is for us. Saint Mark also intends the “opening” of the man’s ears and mouth by Jesus to be symbolic. What happens to this man is what can happen spiritually to every Christian. As surely as Jesus removed the man’s deafness and speech impediment, he wants to remove from us any spiritual disability we have that may prevent us from “hearing” God’s love and ”speaking” that love to others. We are called to “hear” the message of God’s love in moments of prayer, in our relationships with one another, and in any number of everyday life experiences whether they are joyful or challenging. Hearing that message and believing it enables us to be a voice by which others can hear it as well.
Love, healing, reconciliation, compassion, making peace – all of these gifts become real in our world by listening and speaking to one another. This constant exchange or “dialogue” is what it means to practice our faith. And in Mark’s Gospel, this dialogue is not restricted to the human level but also applies to our communication with God. Prayer is not only speaking to God; prayer is also being quiet enough, thoughtful enough, and reflective enough to “listen” to God who speaks to us through all of the blessings and difficulties of our lives. But we have to be open.
Is my heart open to ”hear” God’s forgiveness? to hear Jesus command to love my neighbor? to love my enemies? to always put others first? to avoid harsh words or judgments of others? Am I ready to “open” my mouth with words of praise, encouragement, comfort and, if necessary, reconciliation and peace?
How does Christ open our ears and mouth? How do we become capable of knowing the mind and heart of God and sharing it with others? The Church says it happens through the power of our baptism. On the day we are baptized, the priest or deacon who is performing the ceremony says a prayer over us that is based on today’s Gospel. As he touches the ears and the mouth of the one who is being baptized, the minister of the sacrament says: “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the mute speak. May he soon touch your ears that you may hear his word, and your mouth that you may proclaim his faith to the glory of God the Father. Amen.” That prayer means that just as Jesus did for the man in today’s Gospel, he wants to take us aside and with great gentleness and compassion, say to us, “Be opened.” If we accept his invitation, we will be like the man who was healed. We will be freed from darkness and isolation, and empowered every day to enter into a world that is bright and alive with the “sounds” of the Lord’s joy and peace.