When actions speak louder – Friday, 5th Week in ordinary time – Mark 7:31-37
The Gospels are filled with desperate people characterized by the word ‘begged’. Yesterday’s Gospel text had the Syro-Phoenician woman on her knees, bowed at Jesus’ feet begging of him. Today, some unidentified persons who find mention in the Gospel by the generic third-person pronoun “they,” bring a man who is both deaf and who has a speech impediment to Jesus. There is desperation in their action for they too begged him. Yet there is a difference between the intercession of the Syro-Phoenician woman and these unnamed persons.
The Syro-Phoenician came with a specific plea; her daughter was possessed by a demon. These unnamed persons also are desperate yet they make no specific request for a healing. Scripture simply tells us that they wanted Jesus to lay his hands on the man they brought. This is reminiscent of the healing of the paralytic, whose friends brought him to Jesus (2:1-12). It seems rather obvious what they wanted yet their rather indirect request itself manifested their faith. It is the same faith and humility that lead so many lay people to ask a priest or a religious for a Sunday blessing as they bow their heads and join their hands. The request is never specific but their intention is clear.
The initiative for this healing miracle did not come from the deaf man himself. It was others who brought Jesus to him. It was these people of good will who “begged him to lay his hand on him”. Perhaps we should remember that many of the good things that happen to us come from the good will and prayers of others on our behalf.
This healing is very different from that of the woman’s daughter. In that story, Jesus took no action other than to report the healing to the mother (v. 29). If Jesus seemed too-little-engaged in that instance, he seems too-much-engaged in this one. He puts his fingers into the man’s ears. He spits and touches the man’s tongue. Yet to a Jewish audience, this would only reassure the person, for these actions were common healing procedures.
But within all this lies the humility of the Son of God who “Looking up to heaven, sighed, and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’ (v. 34).” Looking to heaven demonstrates Jesus’ dependency on the Father. His sigh demonstrates his sympathy and compassion. Jesus was distressed at the suffering of this man. This Gospel reassures us that Jesus cares for each of us his heart.
Religion is about the ordinary like these ordinary actions. The gospel of Jesus doesn’t fudge that issue. Yet we also see the extraordinary. While Jesus puts his fingers in the man’s ears and touches his tongue, it is only when Jesus utters his authoritative word that the man’s tongue is loosened.
We all need to have our ears opened so that we can hear and understand in its fullness, the message of Jesus. In addition to that, once we have heard and understood, the natural consequence is that we go out and speak openly to the world about what we have heard and understood. Both hearing and speaking are inseparable for the Christian disciple.