Gospel Lectio Divina for 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 5, 2021
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.”
Jesus left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee
Jesus is on a mission to spread the kingdom of God. He wastes no time traveling from town to town on this mission. When we turn to the Word of God, sometimes we may expect words of wisdom that speak to our life, a pithy saying with some hidden gem of truth, or maybe words of consolation in tough times. But today God’s words to us begin with action. Jesus is busy going about his work, and sometimes observing him at work is enough. That’s the witnessing he gives to us today. Let’s get busy with God’s work because there is no time to waste.
He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue
These words stand out not so much for their profundity, but for their strangeness. What is Jesus doing and why? It sounds like an awfully strange way to heal a man from deafness. It’s interesting that these actions are followed by Jesus crying to heaven. It’s as if Jesus is emphasizing the importance of both the heavenly and the earthly portion of the miracle he is performing. Here I see a connection to the sacraments. The physical actions we perform in connection with some spiritual reality may seem insignificant at times, but Jesus highlights the importance of the physical by connecting even his own miracles to some physical act. He could have just spoken the words, “Be open”, for he is God and his words alone are enough to make things happen. But he knows we are physical beings, and it’s hard enough to believe in God even when he does give us physical signs of his presence and his abilities.
This reminds me of the way I play with my son sometimes. When I pretend to be a firetruck, I make the sounds of the engine, the sirens, and the hose. It’s to help my son believe that there really is a firetruck present. My physical enactment helps connect the real world with the world of make-believe he and I are creating. In a similar way, Jesus uses physical acts to help us connect with the spiritual world. He does it when he performs this miracle, and he does it by giving us physical signs for the sacraments to represent spiritual realities. There is, of course, a significant difference. While my pretend firetruck is just that--pretend--the physical signs God gives us are real. The acts he performed to heal the deaf man really did help heal him. Dipping our fingers in a font of holy water really does renew our baptism, the bread and wine really are the body and blood of Christ, and so on. The parallel to the way we play with our children is just to show how we are God’s children, and he is using concepts we can easily grasp to help us understand the mystery of a much greater, deeper, more beautiful reality: him.
Jesus’ miracles of healing always point to a deeper spiritual message. Here, he is inviting the witnesses of the miracle to open their hearts to the word of truth that is now among them. The Bible says in a few other places that people will be “ever seeing but never perceiving, ever hearing but never understanding.” Last week, Jesus quotes Isaiah saying, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Again, Jesus is using the physical realm to direct people to a spiritual reality; this time it’s the reality that people are deaf to the voice of God. God wants our hearts to be opened to him so we can hear his voice. What steps can I take to eliminate my spiritual deafness?
the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it.
Jesus said if you love me you will keep my commandments (John 14:15). The fact that this crowd did not do what Jesus ordered them to do proves that they did not really love him. They probably just wanted to see a miracle. One can give them the benefit of the doubt and just say they're fickle. Maybe they did have genuine concern for the deaf man, but then after they actually witnessed the miracle of his healing they simply couldn't contain themselves. Maybe if they knew that spreading word of Jesus' miracles would ultimately lead to his arrest and death, maybe then they would have listened. But that is the whole point of obedience, is it not? We don't always know why we have to obey, but we trust that the one telling us to obey knows better than we do. That trust is based in love, and that love is based in trust. Jesus evidently knew many things before they happened. He understood people's hearts better than they understood their own hearts. When he told the people not to tell anyone about the miracle, he was testing them to see if they were listening. It turned out that the ones who witnessed the healing of the deaf man were, in some ways, deafer than the deaf man.
He has done all things well
True, Jesus has done all things well. But at the end of the passage, we now see the motive of the people. They were testing Jesus to see if he was everything they heard he was. Jesus doesn’t fall for their trick, but instead turns their test around and tests them. It’s understandable that they had questions and wanted to see for themselves if Jesus could perform miracles. Who wouldn’t want to see Jesus heal the deaf man? It would have been better if they believed even without signs, but they’re only human and we have to admit we might have demanded a sign first too before we started to follow Jesus. That’s why it’s their reaction to the miracle that matters most. Even after seeing Jesus heal the deaf man, they still do not listen to him, but instead proclaimed the news everywhere they went.
Thank you for speaking to me in ways I would not struggle to hear if would but open my heart to you. Sometimes your message to me is so simple: something like “Go to confession” or “Pray the Rosary.” I complicate things by making all kinds of excuses. Help me believe. Please give me the strength to quiet my own mind so I can hear you. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
If we don’t know that God is calling us to listen in this Gospel, then we are deafer than the deaf man. God wants us to turn our spiritual ears toward him--in other words, our hearts--so we are no longer deaf to his voice in our lives. What do we need to do to have a more open heart? In what way is God shouting to us, “Be opened!”
Kilby is a freelance writer from New Jersey and managing editor of Catholic World Report.