The gospel today appears, at first hearing, to be a simple account of another of the miracles of Jesus. As with all of scripture, there is something more to this story just as there is something more to Jesus than his working of miracles. As with all of the New Testament there are echoes here of the Old Testament. ‘The New Testament’, one of my teachers used to tell us, ‘is written in Old Testament ink’. There are prophecies being fulfilled in and by Jesus. One of these prophecies is from the prophet Isaiah. We read it in our first reading. It reads, ‘the ears of the deaf shall be unsealed… and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy’. The psalm has words that have the same sentiment, the same hopes and expectations of the Messiah. Jesus, then is being revealed as the promised one, the Messiah for whom they have been waiting. The people, seeing that he did all things well, and being moved to faith in him, proclaim him everywhere.
As Jesus reached out to the ritually unclean in last Sunday’s gospel, so today he reaches out to the Gentiles. The geography of the story is meant to tell us that Jesus, seeing that his word went unheard and unproclaimed by his own people has resorted to gentile or pagan territory where the people recognise his true identity and proclaim him as the one sent by God. The ministry of Jesus also tells us something of the nature and concerns of God. Those who had first call on the ministry and on the compassion of Jesus were the afflicted, the little ones of the world. Saint James makes the point very clearly to us in the second reading where he teaches that the kingdom belongs to those who share Jesus’ preference for the least and last of this world.
By invitation then, Jesus takes the deaf and somewhat dumb man aside, probably to afford him a little dignity, to get him away from the intrusive curiosity of the crowd. He uses the traditional tools of a healer, his hands, the transmitting power of touch and some spittle. He looks prayerfully to heaven and he sighs in a moment of compassion and profound feeling for the man. The admiration of the people who witnessed the healing miracle was unbounded. This is the strongest statement of astonishment in the gospel according to Saint Mark. They said that Jesus had ‘done all things well’. The healing word or command of Jesus, ‘Ephphata’ or, ‘be opened’ is still used in the liturgy of baptism. The priest touches the ears and the lips of the child near the end of the baptismal prayers and prays that the ears of the child may soon be opened to receive God’s word and that his or her tongue may proclaim the faith into which the child has been baptised. At that point in the ceremony I often wonder just how much of the gospel will the child ever hear or how much will the adult that I hope the child will become will proclaim the faith by the witness of its life. I know that no matter how often I hear the scriptures or preach on them there is still more to be heard. I know too the no matter what witness I give or what admiration of Jesus I profess, there is always more to be heard when I listen intently. There is more to be proclaimed and there are more people to be healed by the reconciling words and deeds of Jesus. The challenge today is to listen, to proclaim, to heal and above all, to believe in the Messiah, the one sent to all peoples, the God who comes among us to save us.