23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (Ages 6-9): Aside, In Private, Away From
(Adults, you could read the first paragraph of the reflection to the child, then read the Gospel, and then continue with the reflection.)
We often notice how people are fascinated by Jesus. They like to listen to him; they love to hear him speak. A few Sundays ago we heard Jesus say that his words are spirit and life. No one has heard anyone speak the way Jesus does. The Gospel for this Sunday seems to be all about hearing and not hearing, about speaking and not speaking.
They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him.
This man is the first person in this reading who is not hearing. Because he is deaf, his friends know he cannot listen to Jesus the way they do. They do not know how he can ever hear Jesus' words that are spirit and life. What do they hope will happen if Jesus lays his hand on the man?
We are also told that the man has a speech impediment. This means he cannot speak correctly either. Because the man is deaf, he cannot hear how words are supposed to sound. He is able to make sounds, but they probably do not sound like words. It must be very difficult for this man to communicate.
Jesus took him aside in private, away from the crowd,
In three ways, St. Mark tells us that Jesus and the man are by themselves. Why is this important? Why do we take someone aside, in private, away from other people? Why would we want to be by ourselves with another person? We do this when we want to share something important. We do this when we do not want to be distracted by anything or anyone else. Jesus and the man are alone. Jesus and the man are together.
For the man who is deaf, everything is already silent. But aside, in private, away from the crowd, there is nothing to distract him from Jesus. He cannot listen to Jesus with his ears that do not work properly, but there is nothing to distract him from listening to Jesus deep down inside.
put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, Jesus sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.
When Jesus touches the man's ears and his tongue, when he looks up to heaven, now it is Jesus who is the one making sounds that are not proper words. He sighs. The Greek word that St. Mark uses means "groans"-- a sound that comes from deep within that is not actually a word. What does that sigh, what does that groan mean? We sigh or groan when we do not have words to express how we feel. We sigh or groan when we feel so much that it comes out of our guts like a sound. How much Jesus feels for this man who cannot hear, for this man who cannot speak correctly.
When Jesus speaks, he speaks only one word, "Ephahatha." It is a word that, to us, does not sound like a word. Efff-ffffaaaa-tha. Try saying that. Ephaphatha. Ephphatha sounds like breath, and our breath is, of course, our life. We recall that Jesus' words are spirit and life. Jesus breathes his life into the man--and the man can hear. Jesus breathes his Spirit into the man--and the man can speak correctly. Jesus speaks, and it is done. We know that there is only One person who can do this.
What does the man say? What does he say when his ears are opened and he can hear? Now that he can speak correctly, what does he say? What does he say plainly now that he can hear birds and crickets and chipmunks? What does he say plainly now that he can hear the voice of his mother, of his grandfather, of the One who opened his ears? St. Mark does not tell us. We wonder if the man feels so much that it comes out of his guts as a sigh or as a groan. We wonder if this sound makes his feelings plain enough for everyone to hear.
Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.
Now Jesus speaks to tell the people not to speak! Do they hear? They certainly do not listen to him. They proclaim zealously, speaking with so much enthusiasm and energy. They are excited about what they have seen.
Throughout the years, people have wondered why Jesus tells the people not to tell anyone about what they have seen. It is a bit of a mystery. There are many ideas about what this might mean. For us today, we can consider the man who once could not hear and who once could not speak. We can consider how Jesus took him aside, in private, away from the crowd. We can consider how precious the moments are that he spends together with Jesus alone. The story of the opening of his ears--whose story is it? Who can proclaim it?
The moments aside, in private, away from distractions that the man shares with Jesus are so special. Can we have moments like this, too? Can we step aside, find a place in private, away from distractions and be together alone with Jesus? We can. We can find a safe place to open the Word of God. Do we have to listen to it read to us? Or can we sit in silence with it, the way the man who was deaf was always in silence, and listen to Jesus deep down inside? This is prayer. Do we have to be able to speak correctly? Or is it enough to pray like Jesus does, with a sigh or a groan when we do not have words to express how we feel?