Listen to Fr. Jeremy’s homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 9, 2018
Even in a crowded restaurant, the clash of silverware hitting the floor will ring out through all the conversation. More so, when a waiter accidentally drops a whole tray of dishes. No matter how much sound, noise, and conversation is going on, for just a moment, there will be a brief pause… even cringe of the patrons, which is quickly filled back up with the resuming of conversation and discussion.
There is much noise in the world and in our daily lives. Whether it is the noise in the school halls or classrooms, the radio and banter in the car, the TV on in the background at home, the constant noise of phones, there is much that fills the airwaves. So much so, that at times I sometimes think it would be good, for just a moment or two to be deaf. To turn it all off. To have silence. Of course that is exaggeration. I don’t really want to be deaf. Physical deafness would be a difficult change to live with. Not being able to hear a child laugh or giggle. Not to be able to hear a loved one’s voice. To not be able to hear someone walking up behind you or the sound of thunder in the distance. Deafness would be a challenge. Such that we would probably want to be cured of it. We would be willing to accept all the noise of the world, rather than forgo the silence of deafness.
In part, this is why the crowd brings to Jesus the man who is deaf. They want Jesus to lay hands on him – that is, they want Jesus to heal him. The crowd wants to help the man to hear, and in hearing to speak clearly. As we heard, Jesus does heal the man. His hearing is restored, and he speaks plainly. But the encounter with Jesus by the deaf man, cured something more profound than his physical deafness and his subsequent speak impediment. Jesus opened the man’s spiritual deafness – allowing him to hear the Word of God.
Few of us have physical hearing problems. Perhaps a few of us, later in life after the years of loud noise take their toll. But many of us suffer from spiritual deafness. We never hear the Word of God. We never hear Jesus speak to us. We never hear the stirring of the Spirit in our lives.
This comes about for many reasons, but three are probably most pressing I think. First, it is hard to hear when the background noise is too loud. This is the thing that gets seniors most, even when they have a hearing aid. A hearing aid has a hard time amplifying only the sound of the voice you want to listen to, and so amplifies all the surrounding noises. And so while the person now hears more of the information, the sheer volume of sounds and noises makes it impossible to distinguish the right voice, the right sound. If we would listen to God, we need to come away from the crowd, away from the busyness, away from the ambient noises of our lives. This is not always easy. How many times have you come away ‘alone’ into this church, only to bring the ‘crowd’ of the whole world with you in your distractions, concerns, worries and fears. All the noise of life blares away in our minds and hearts. Jesus first “took [the deaf man] off by himself away from the crowd. He [even] put his finger into the man’s ears [to block out the noise]” (Mk 7:33)
Next, it is difficult to hear (physically or spiritually) when we are already talking. I once heard a story about a small child coming up to their dad and trying to tell them something that was important to them. The dad was looking at something on his phone. He was not giving his full attention to his daughter, either talking or texting someone else. The child tried to talk and dad nodded his head saying he was listening to her. But then, the child insisted that dad listen to her, “not just with your ears, but with your eyes, daddy!” Even this little girl had realized that when dad was speaking to someone else, he would not really be listening to her. We do the same with God. When we talk at God, we are often spiritually deaf to hearing God’s response. Jesus “spitting, touched his tongue” (Mark 7:33-34). I can almost imagine Jesus holding the tongue as if to signal, stop talking and listen!
Finally, each of us is deaf (physically and spiritually) when we have already made up our mind, pre-deciding what we will believe. We see this every day in our political “discourse.” And I use that word only loosely, for it is anything but discourse. When two sides have already firmly decided both what they believe and what the other will say, they never actually talk to each other, but just over each other. There is deafness. I’ve seen it when it comes to Christ, the Church, the Gospel. I’ve seen it teens, in fellow Christian denominations, in atheist. They’ve already decided what they are going to believe and so are closed to hearing anything else. Jesus “then looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ (that is, “Be opened!”)” (Mark 7: 34). To hear, we must be open. Open to the new possibilities. Open to God’s grace. Open to being healed. Open to the Good News. Open to God’s revelation. A closed mind will be forever deaf, no matter the physical function of one’s ears or not.
True silence is not so much the absence of sound, as the absence of noise, as the absence of our own speech, as the absence of our own isolation. It is only in that beautiful Silence that God can speak to us.
And when we enter into that Graced Silence, then like the deaf man of the Decapolis, ‘our ears will be opened, our speech impediment will be removed, and we will at last speak plainly,’ (Cf Mk 7:35) for we will speak the Truth we hear from God in His Holy Word.