Theme: New life
Society’s attitudes regarding its physically/mentally challenged members have evolved considerably through the centuries. Each generation, motivated by an ever-growing sensitivity has started to respect disability. Those with physical limitations, such as deafness or blindness are now described as hearing and visually challenged while children with learning difficulties are no longer called slow or dense; but appreciated as having special needs.
In the interest of what has come to be known as political correctness, some of this newly devised vocabulary appears to be extreme, but it all the same on the right path. This is a sign that contemporary society is learning to value people for who they are rather than what they can do. Believers need to be continuously aware that physical challenges do not diminish one’s soul.
First reading: Isaiah 35:4-7
In an interview a Ugandan Athlete star, Kiprotich was asked to explain the reasons for his optimism and perseverance. He replied candidly, obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb over or to run around it. In life visualize where you want to be and what kind of person you want to become. Know exactly where you want to go and focus on getting there. Prophet Isaiah wished to impart a similar optimism among his people. As they had run into a wall, as it were, Isaiah offered advice on how to scale it. Isaiah had noticed the wall that separated the exiles from their homeland which he foresaw crumbling as God was coming to vindicate those who had been so long oppressed cf. Isaiah 35:4. In order to illustrate the profundity of divine power to reverse their misfortunes, Isaiah assured them that this experience would be reflected in the world around them. Rivers would pour forth in the desert; and what had formerly been barren would become an Eden-like oasis cf. Isaiah 35:6-7. It is most probable that using the Shadufu Technology they had learnt in Egypt, these captives irrigated a big part of Babylon to produce big harvests that had never been seen before.
As a way of encouraging them, Isaiah portrayed their redemption in terms of health, healing and well-being for the disabled. Those who suffered from blindness and deafness would become whole; while the lame would miraculously be rehabilitated. Even the tongue of the mute would be freed to offer a song of praise to the saving power of God cf. Isaiah 35:6. In today’s gospel, Mark made certain that his audience would recognize that Jesus’ healing of the deaf man was such a sign. The term mogilalos/person with a speech impediment appears only twice in the bible; once in Isaiah 35:6 and again in Mark 7:32. This is to assist us understand that with Jesus, the vision of Isaiah was finally realized. Because of Jesus, the wall/sin that had separated people from God was forever removed.
Second reading: James 2:1-5
Recently, history was made on South African soil when black and white students attending the local high schools opted to for an integrated graduation ceremony. Until then, there had been separate graduations for blacks and for whites even after apartheid had been defeated. It was students themselves who decided that such segregation should end. Surprising as it may sound, we must admit that discrimination continues to plague human community. Aware of the threat which divisiveness poses to the Christian community, James exhorted his audience to pay attention to small details in life concerning emotional attitudes in regard to rich and poor.
Even today, anyone familiar with the bible will admit that many of its authors reflect the male dominated cultures in which we live; where women have little or no voice at all. However, it should also be recognized that the work of other inspired authors like Luke and Paul reveal an awareness of the personal worth and unique value of every person regardless these anomalies. Evidently, some people among James’ community were being favored over others on the basis of their financial ability and capacity to dress well whereby whose with weak economic power were given low deal of attention. We ought to unite in challenging such favoritism as a fault cf. Leviticus 19:15. No matter what status, when praying; all of us are equal before God. The Church must be a unique place where social distinction does not exist since the master can sit next to slave and the poor beside the rich. By doing so we emulate Jesus’ example for whom the poor remain a concern. Today, we are challenged to put own attitudes to the test.
Gospel: Mark 7:31-37
Reflecting on today’s gospel we need to remember that many awake each day, not to the sound of an alarm on the table but to the whir of a vibrator under a pillow. Like the deaf-mute in the gospel, these people live in a silent world. For them, the radio is useless. Watching Television is often a bland experience. Conversation is difficult. Yet the plight of a physical deaf-mute is nothing compared to that of the spiritual deaf-mute, someone who can’t or won’t hear God and respond in prayer. Most of us fall into either of these categories at one time or another in our lives. Spiritually we live in a silent world cut off from the voice which calls us to life and speaks the words of mercy and forgiveness. Jesus’ healing of the deaf-mute reminds us of the necessity of being daily attuned to that voice. Jesus’ actions also served as a signal that the long awaited era of salvation has been established in his person and through his ministry.
Healings, such as this one, were associated with the advent of the messiah cf. Isaiah 42:6-7 whose reign would bring about physical health, well-being and spiritual renewal. Note that Mark offered his listeners a literary signal that something significant was about to occur. The act of taking the deaf-mute/mogilalos off by himself, away from the crowd/kat’idian was an indication that there was to be a special epiphany/manifestation of divine power cf. Mark 7:32-33. In this instance, Jesus’ healing of the deaf-mute was tantamount to revelation whereby his action identified him as messiah and a proclamation of the age of salvation.
The community of Mark, familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures would have recognized another signal in Jesus’ command Ephphatha! Be opened! Six centuries earlier, Ezekiel had prophesied, “that day your mouth shall be opened and you shall be dumb no longer. Thus you shall be a sign to them and they shall know that I am the Lord” Ezekiel 24:27. Healed from his disabilities, the deaf-mute became yet another witness to God’s reign as his wholeness was a living proclamation of the good news. Having declared all foods clean, thereby bulldozing the wall that separated Jews from Gentiles cf. Mark 7:19, Jesus passed through various gentile regions, proclaiming Good News and Healing to gentiles cf. Mark 7:24-30. The good news of abundant food and miraculous healing were symbols of the salvation which the gospel proclaimed and which Jesus and the Church after him, were to extend to all the peoples of the earth!
Mark also identifies a correlation between the healing of the deaf-mute and the blind man at Bethsaida cf. Mark 8:22-26 and the continuing struggle of Jesus to bring spiritual insight and attentiveness to his often obtuse disciples. With each physical healing, Jesus challenged his followers to further surrender their doubts and cast aside their confusion in order to move toward a deeper insight and understanding of his words and works. Peter’s confession that you are the Messiah at Caesarea Philippi in Mark 8:27-35 attests to the fact that Jesus’ efforts did not go unanswered. Slowly, but surely, the disciples began to see and to hear with clarity and faith. Like the deaf-mute they would begin to speak and to proclaim the good news of salvation. For us all who are the contemporary disciples, the experience of the deaf-mute serves both as a reminder and a challenge. We are reminded that Jesus has the power to heal the spiritual deafness caused by habitual sin. Hearts that have become hardened by a refusal to hear and listen and live according to his words are once again challenged today with Ephphatha! Be opened!
Salvation is a gift to all of us, yet it requests our determination so as to achieve it. We need to make sure that determination accompanies our struggle to achieve it. Before God we are all his beloved children, color, race, gender and status should never influence our relationship. In the event that we are deaf and blind spiritually, we need to present this situation to Jesus and He alone will offer us a tremendous solution. In conclusion let us comply that today’s liturgy prompts us to evaluate our physical environment. Is our society willing to interact freely with the poor, blind, deaf, lame and otherwise challenged members near and fat; if not, why not? God wants joy.