God comes to us to restore and raise our dignity

09-09-2018HomiliesFr. Chad King

My brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus does a couple things that are little peculiar in our Gospel today, but the reason is of the utmost importance not only for this man, but for us too. So, let us begin our reflection.

Our Gospel begins by saying, “Jesus left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis”. What is peculiar about the areas of Tyre and Sidon, and also of the Decapolis is that they were predominantly Greek cities where Gentiles lived, places most Jews never wanted to go. Therefore, can you imagine what would be in the mind of the disciples accompanying Jesus into these unclean Gentile regions, unsure of what Jesus was doing or why. I assume they were feeling both apprehensive and uncomfortable. Already by this point, they saw Jesus cast out a demon and perform several miracles, but the healing of this man in today’s Gospel was especially telling. For by this healing the disciples learn that Jesus is not just an ordinary prophet but might just truly be the Messiah they’ve been waiting for. But He was not only going to save the Jewish people, but wanted to save every person, even Gentiles.

Our Gospel continues, that people- Greeks and Gentiles- who had heard about the healing power of Jesus, brought to him a deaf man who had speech impediment. Think for a moment what it might be like to be that man, first of all he is deaf- he cannot hear noises or voices, and this was before sign-language had been developed. Therefore, it is possible he didn’t know he had a speech impediment if he ever learned how to talk. Think about how babies start to say simple words- mama or dada, but then over time by hearing other people talk they learn to talk more and more. But on top of being deaf, he also had a speech impediment, which could mean that he was mute and couldn’t speak at all, or at least could not speak clearly. I will tell you that I have empathy for this man. Personally, I have always had a speech impediment, stuttering, however, through therapy I’ve improved, whereas he wouldn’t have had a chance to improve. So, I have some idea then how difficult it would have been for him to communicate to people even a little, if it was even possible, just as it is hard for someone to have the patience to want to try and listen. But remember that this man was also deaf, he saw people moving their mouths, but couldn’t hear what they were saying, so they had to intentionally communicate to him another way, if they even tried.   Therefore, can you imagine then how much extra effort it took for this deaf and mute man and another person wanting to communicate with him. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t natural, it was very difficult and time consuming. And because it was so difficult to communicate, I imagine this man was isolated and somewhat of an outcast. He was probably ridiculed as a child growing up, he probably thought that he wasn’t normal, that he wasn’t as good or as important as others, as clearly everyone else had something that he didn’t.  Likewise, I can imagine him having a low self-esteem, struggling to have dignity, meaning, and worth. Have you ever felt that way? I know I have. But also, being a Gentile, he didn’t have a true God or prophet or higher being who could heal him, he didn’t have any hope; until one day his family and friends heard about the miracles this man Jesus was doing and brought him to Jesus. However, to have a deeper understanding of this encounter with Jesus, let us first briefly look at our 1st reading.

Our 1st reading is from the Prophet Isaiah, in which he is prophesying how in the future the Messiah would come. Our 1st reading reads, “Thus says the Lord: Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing”. So, Isaiah is saying that God will come, he will come to save the people. Amazing enough of a concept- God coming to them and them not having to try and go to God. But Isaiah also says that when God comes, how you can recognize him, because when He comes he will open the eyes that are blind, the ears of the deaf will hear, the tongue of the mute will sing.

Even though this Gentile man wouldn’t have known, the good Jewish disciples would have known this prophecy, they would have known what the Messiah would do when he came. Can you imagine their astonishment, therefore, when Jesus heals this man who was deaf, and who was mute, or at least had a speech impediment? The disciples travelling with Jesus would have understood that in Jesus the prophecy from Isaiah was fulfilled, that indeed, God had come. But by healing a Gentile, God didn’t come just to save the Jews, it was apparent that God had come to save every person.

Now let us look closer at the healing from the man’s perspective, and how Jesus healed him in a somewhat peculiarly way. Instead of healing him so as to show the crowd, Jesus takes this man off by himself. He doesn’t want to heal him to make a scene, but he compassionately cares about the loneliness and lack of sense of worth this man must have had. So, Jesus took him off by himself to personally meet this man where he was and to impress upon him his dignity, that He is worth coming to, and being healed. But also the way Jesus heals is also so personal, so intimate. Jesus sticks his fingers into the man’s ears and they were opened, and then spits upon his fingers and touches the man’s tongue, and it was loosened. And our Gospel says that, “immediately his ears were opened and speech impediment removed, and he could speak plainly”. What a powerful miracle, Jesus made this man who probably never had learned how to talk was now suddenly able to speak plainly, and now was able to hear and recognize sounds and voices for the first time. For truly as our Gospel states, at such a miracle, they were exceedingly astonished.  And the disciples also were astonished, because they had witnessed that God had come. Jesus didn’t call upon God like any prophet of the day would have done, but He showed that He has the power of God in Himself. For Jesus gave of himself, his fingers and saliva, to heal this mute and deaf man, the very same healings that God would do to announce his coming, as Isaiah foretold. Indeed, for the disciples, the unspoken words but actions of Jesus healing this man loudly proclaimed that in Jesus, God has come.

Listen to St. Ephrem from the 4th century reflect on the meaning of this healing. “That power which may not be handled came down and clothed itself in members that may be touched, that the desperate may draw near to him, that in touching his humanity they may discern his divinity. For that speechless man the Lord healed with the fingers of his body. He put his fingers into the man’s ears and touched his tongue. At that moment with fingers that may be touched, he touched the Godhead that may not be touched. Immediately this loosened the string of his tongue, and opened the clogged doors of his ears. For the very architect of the body itself and artificer of all flesh had come personally to him, and with his gentle voice tenderly opened up his obstructed ears”.

My brothers and sisters, what this healing means for us is that the same Jesus who so personally and compassionately met this man where he was at, and healed and restored his dignity, is the same Jesus who comes to us in the Holy Eucharist. And likewise, in such a personal and intimate way for us, gives his very self to us. So, my brothers and sisters, as the bread and wine are offered upon this Altar, offer where your heart is at, what are you asking or wanting the Lord to do for you, what you need to be healed and transformed.  And as you receive Holy Communion, as you receive the very Power of God within your very self, know that God has come to you. He has come to meet you where you are and gives you Himself, He can heal our loneliness and brokenness.  Open your heart to Jesus, simply be there with Him and let God come into you in such a compassionate, loving, personal way, for to God you and I are worth it.