23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (Ages 9-12): The Work of Prophets
(Begin by reading the Gospel. Sometimes it is good to have someone read it to you. The Word is meant to be heard.)
Jesus and his friends spend much of their time traveling around Israel, mainly in the regions of Galilee and the land across the Jordan river. Wherever he goes, Jesus reveals the Kingdom of God to the people who gather around him. He reveals the Kingdom in his parables, he reveals it in his actions. He cannot help but reveal it. The Kingdom is thick about him.
Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.
In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus is traveling through an area of Israel in which many Gentiles live. Gentiles are people who are not Jewish and do not know and worship the One True God. We remember that the Jewish people are the Chosen people of God. Through them, all the world shall be blessed. God promises this to Abraham so many centuries before Jesus is born. Yet as Jesus walks through these regions, there are many Gentiles who still do not have relationship with God.
They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him.
These Gentiles may not know God, but they know a miracle worker when they
hear of one. What do they want of Jesus? Their friend cannot hear, and he cannot speak clearly. These two conditions often go together. A person who is deaf cannot correct the words they speak to make them sound like other people. Words sound garbled, like the person is speaking underwater. This man who is deaf must find it extremely frustrating to communicate to people who can hear.
Jesus took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and 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.
Why does Jesus take the man aside from the crowd? Is he a magician, is he putting on a show? This is not a performance. This is way more important than that.
What does Jesus do? The man's ears do not work; Jesus sticks his fingers in them. The man's tongue does not form words correctly; Jesus puts his own spit on the man's tongue. What do we think of these actions? Gross? In this time of pandemic--unhygienic? But what is Jesus doing? The man has a problem and Jesus is getting right down into it with him. We could say that Jesus is touching him, "where it hurts."
What does Jesus say? He looks up to God and sighs. The Greek word that St. Mark uses means "groans"-- a sound that comes out of us from deep down in our guts. IT is a sound we make when there are not words to express how we feel. Then, when Jesus speaks, it is a command, "Ephahatha." This is a word that does not sound like a word. Efff-ffffaaaa-tha. It sounds like breath whistling under our teeth and pushed out across our tongue. It is a command that sounds like a whisper.
What happens? The man hears. And hearing, he begins to speak plainly. The Greek word here is orthós, which means "rightly" or "correctly." There is not error in his speech. We also notice when all this happens. Immediately. Jesus speaks, and it is done. We know that there is only One person who can do this.
Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.
We know that there is only One person who can do this, but do these Gentiles know this? What do they see? Jesus touching the man--laying hands on him as they had desired. What do they hear? Jesus speaking a strange word, perhaps a magic word. What do they proclaim? Possibly they proclaim Jesus a great magician, a great show man who gives a great performance. But this is not a performance. This is way more important than that.
Do they proclaim the Kingdom of God? Probably not. They do not yet know who Jesus is. They do not yet have covenant relationship with God. But they will. The Resurrection is coming. Jesus' gift is coming.
But what could they proclaim about the Kingdom of God? What has Jesus revealed?
In the reading from the prophet Isaiah that is proclaimed on this same Sunday, we hear:
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
Isaiah has received a vision of the Kingdom of God as it is complete. No one blind, no one deaf, no one lame, no one speechless. Everyone communicates freely, no frustration. Notice how those who once were speechless sing. For joy. Joy, we know, is a fruit of the Holy Spirit--a sign that the Holy Spirit is here and at work. This is the Kingdom of God.
Isaiah has a vision of the Kingdom, but Jesus reveals it. He cannot help but reveal it; the Kingdom is thick about him. Wherever Jesus is, there the Kingdom is also. Of course the man who once was deaf can hear. Who can he hear? Hearing, he begins to speak. Of course his tongue now speaks plainly. He has heard the Word of God. We wonder how long before he begins to sing for joy.
Isaiah sees what Jesus reveals--the Plan for the Kingdom in all its fullness. When will this be? Then, Isaiah says. Now, Jesus reveals.
Now? Can we live this in our moment time? How?
When someone we know has a problem, can we get right down into it with them? Maybe not sharing our spit, but by sharing the problem. This is what Jesus does, and wherever Jesus is, there the Kingdom is also.
There is also a moment at our Baptism, when the priest or deacon touches our ears and mouth. It is called the "Ephphatha." Here is the prayer that is said:
May the Lord Jesus,
who made the deaf to hear and the mute to speak,
grant that you may soon receive his word with your ears
and profess the faith with your lips,
to the glory and praise of God the Father.
Receive the word. Listen. Hear.
Profess the faith. Speak what you have heard.
This is the work of a prophet.
This is what Isaiah does. He hears. He speaks.
This is what the man who once was deaf does. He hears. He speaks rightly.
This is what we do also. We are doing it right now. We listen to the Word of God. And then we proclaim, we speak plainly, we sing for joy.