Today’s gospel is unique for several reasons: 1) It is proper to Mark, i.e., not found in any other gospel; 2) The cure took place in pagan territory; 3) It was the people who brought the sick man to Jesus (stress on the role of the Christian community); and 4) Jesus performed an unusually elaborate ritual: “He took him apart; put his finger into his ears; spat; touched his tongue; looked up to heaven; groaned, and said ‘ephphatha’ (be opened).” Usually, Jesus performed cures and expulsions of demons by a word of command: “Be cured.” “Go out of him.” Why this elaborate ritual in today’s gospel? Several explanations are given: One: The man could not hear, so this was for him some sort of sign language. Two: That’s what faith healers at the time of Jesus used to do. Jesus wanted to act like one of them in order to conceal his divine power.
In today’s first reading, prophet Isaiah foretells the coming of the Messiah in terms of healing and abundance of water — healing of persons and healing of the land. Health is our most precious possession (health is wealth, we say). We give anything in exchange for it, and spend any amount of money in order to regain it. Hence healing is the greatest sign of God’s presence. By healing the sick, Jesus made God’s presence felt among the people, hence their remark: “He has done all things well” (Cf. Gen 1:31). When John the Baptist’s disciples asked Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come or shall we wait for someone else?” Jesus simply said: “Go and tell John what you see. The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk,” (Mt. 11:3-5). In other words, the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled by Jesus: The Lord is here!
The Church carries on the healing ministry of Jesus. Wherever it is established, the first thing the Church does is to set up clinics, hospitals and leprosaria (in the Philippines, San Lazaro and San Juan de Dios were put up by the early Franciscan missionaries). It is not true that the Church’s mission is just to “save souls.” It cares for the bodies as well. We must remember that Jesus left to us the sacrament of healing for us to carry on his healing ministry. Too bad this sacrament has been known as the Extreme Unction and is (wrongly) believed by many to be reserved for the dying.
Today’s readings remind us that we are all in need of healing, both physical and spiritual. In the second reading, St. James warns us against practicing selective behavior and discrimination. And that is precisely a sickness most of us suffer from: selective hearing, selective seeing and selective speaking. We hear what we want to hear. Once a parish priest heard the confession of his sacristan. When the latter had mentioned his sins the priest told him: “You forgot to mention that you made kupit from the collection and drank Mass wine in the sacristy.” Complete silence. The priest went out of the confessional and said, “You are not answering; can’t you not hear me?” “Not a word, Father,” replied the sacristan. “How about exchanging places?” said the priest, “you do the talking and I will listen.” The sacristan, in a solemn voice, said, “Father, why are you not giving me my sick leave benefit, SSS, living allowance…?” “You are right,” said the priest, “I cannot hear anything from this side.” (Bel San Luis, Word Alive, Year B, p. 104). Selective hearing!
We gladly listen to news, music, gossip, etc., but we are deaf to God’s voice and to the cry of the poor, the sick and the aged. We talk no end about money, about politics, and about other people, but we are mute when it comes to talking about God, about religion, and about Christian values. That is our illness: selective hearing, seeing and talking.
As we approach the table of the Eucharist, may the Lord touch our eyes, our ears and our lips so that we may see, hear and speak only what is pleasing to him.