|Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalm 146:7, 8-9, 9-10
So as to be more available to the graces of today’s readings,
one might imagine Jesus’ using signing to communicate with a person who his
friends have brought to Jesus. They have told Jesus their friend cannot hear
nor speak. The man apparently does not know who Jesus is nor about his having
By hand-gestures Jesus has signed whether the man wants to hear and speak
again, or remain separated. The man begins nodding his head vigorously and
smiling, but then doubts begin diminishing his enthusiasm. Then we see Jesus
lay his hands gently on the man’s ears and touch his mouth. The crowd becomes
speechless as the man begins trying to make sounds.
Our readings in today’s liturgy center us about the double gifts of
listening-hearing and speaking-talking. They both have to do with “ephphatha”-
“be open.” At the liturgy itself, we are invited to listen to the Word of
God and to affirm our having heard by thanking God. With little babies, hearing
comes first, then speaking. “In the beginning was the Word” and then the
Word was spoken. There is a great grace involved in more than hearing, but
actually listening. There is a great grace for which to pray that we might
speak, converse, and communicate rather than merely talking. Jesus
unimpeded the man from one form of separation to be more available to community,
communication, and conversion.
We can pray for the freedom to listen first to ourselves, then to God’s Word,
and then to God’s people, especially those in need. Then we might pray for
the freedom and enthusiasm to speak of the goodness of God in our lives,
in the lives of others, and this world. We might pray also to speak the truth
of the Gospel as it centers our prayerful attention on the areas of injustice,
violence, and the needs of the poor.
In today’s First Reading we listen to and hear a familiar Advent passage
from the prophet Isaiah. The Prophet is speaking to Israel in distant exile
from its homeland. On the day of liberation, natural and physical impossibilities
will take place. On that day those who have trusted will hear and be able
to see great things which will affirm that God has not abandoned them. The
blind will see; those whose sense of hearing has been lost will be restored.
Rivers will run in the desert which will bloom in fertile soil.
Israel is being made promises and is being asked to trust and
hope that their exile will come to an end. They are to watch for the signs.
God has been using signing with many gestures through creation and covenants
and prophecies so that God’s people would trust their being holy and belonging
to God. They had grown blind and deaf to these signs and words, but God remains
faithful through it all.
In the Gospel today, we see Jesus becoming literally a “hearing aid.”
He is fulfilling the promise that the deaf would hear and the mute speak.
He prays “be open” and so the man’s senses of hearing and speaking return.
How he uses these gifts is not told and it is secondary to the act
of recovery which Jesus desires to perform by his coming as Word.
There is more than a single miracle taking place here; there is a dramatic
invitation. At the baptism of an infant, a prayer is recited while
the ears of the child are touched so that soon the goodness of God and life
would be heard and understood. The mouth is touched as well in a blessing
that soon the praise of God would be spoken. The miraculous invitation to
us all is to be “open” to the Word, not merely the word of Scripture, but
the Word of the ever-communicating, never-silent God.
There is something known as “White Noise” which is a kind of hissing, humming,
constant flowing sound that dulls other noises in offices and other work
places. It is meant to free the workers from distractions so to be more concentrated.
In the dorm rooms here at Creighton there is a form of that. While
the students are studying, they can have music blasting in their ears, but
it seems to center them more than silence; yes, that is a miracle. Work and
study need concentration, but the “being open” to which Jesus invites us
We tend to hear that for which we are listening. Midst much static on my
radio, I can, if I listen intently hear the ball scores which nobody else
might hear. I want to know them! Parents have told me that while they are
actually sleeping, they are also listening for the safe return of their teenagers.
While composing this tonight, I was listening also for the doorbell and it
rang very softly in the front of our house, but I heard it, because I was
listening for it.
“Seeing God in all things” is a famous spiritual saying. Jesus
came and continues coming as Word to be heard. The “be open” is the divine
invitation to listen to God in all things. It is too easy to believe that
God speaks only to correct or advise, or instruct. Jesus is the Divine hearing
aid and that healing aid is given so that we are enabled to hear God’s loving
words in all the events of life. Being open to what we want to hear only
is childish and self-absorbed. Hearing and listening to God’s quiet
voice is humbling and faithful. Our fears and frailties can result in postures
of our expecting to hear shaming and punishing pointers. We will hear what
we are listening for and the real miracle is that the Word has been spoken
that we are forgiven and freed from the captivities and exiles of our own
separation and negativity.
It is only after we have been freed from not hearing God’s loving embrace
of our human family and person, that we will be freed from our inabilities
to speak the just and comforting word ourselves. What we hear will determine
how and what we speak. It is a most holy thing to want to hear the
loving word of God more than I want to hear the ball scores.
Like a deer that longs for running streams,
my soul longs for you, my God. My soul is thirsting for the living God.”