Thursday, 02 September 2021 11:24

Loosening the ligaments

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23OTBWeb400Returning from the district of Tyre, Jesus went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, right through the Decapolis region. And they brought him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they asked him to lay his hand on him.

He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, put his fingers in the man’s ears and touched his tongue with spittle. Then looking up to heaven he sighed; and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened and the ligament of his tongue was loosened and he spoke clearly. And Jesus ordered them to tell no one about it, but the more he insisted, the more widely they published it. Their admiration was unbounded. ‘He has done all things well,’ they said, ‘and he makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak. (Mk 7:31-37)

Because of COVID lockdowns and travel restrictions many experience a sense of isolation. Even with the benefits of modern technology and social media we can still feel cut off from those dear to us, unable to leave our homes, go to work, meet up with friends. We share something of the experience of the man in this Sunday’s Gospel. He cannot hear, and cannot speak properly. Living in the ancient world that must have been a profoundly isolating, frightening and frustrating experience for him.

The people ask Jesus to lay a hand on the man. There were many travelling healers at that time, so the people’s request does not imply that they know who Jesus really is, only perhaps his reputation as a healer.

Jesus takes the man aside, away from the crowd, puts his fingers into the man’s ears and touches his tongue with spittle. Both are deeply intimate gestures and somewhat confronting. I wonder what it must have been like to be that man. How much did he understand about what Jesus was doing? Being deaf, did he even know what the crowd had asked Jesus to do for him?

Jesus looks up to heaven, sighs and says ‘Ephphatha,’ – ‘Be opened!’ All at once the man can hear and speak clearly. The man’s social isolation is ended. Now he can enter fully into relationship with other people. The man rejoices, the people rejoice and, even though Jesus asks them not to, they tell the story everywhere.

In telling this story Mark seems to suggest that without the intimate, healing touch of Jesus we remain deaf both to the voice of God and the cries of others, and unable to enter fully into relationship with either. We remain closed and crippled within ourselves, unable to hear the Word of God or pass it on to others. But once touched by the power and spirit of Jesus we are opened to the Word made flesh and God’s vision for human life. Our inner ligaments, the things that once choked the Life within us, begin to be loosened and we begin to speak clearly of God’s loving concern for all humanity in every word and action.

Download our Celebrating At Home liturgy for this Sunday here.

pdf Celebrating At Home 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time [PDF] (569 KB)
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