Jesus says to us: hear and speak
5 September 2021 23rd Sunday Year B
There are two miracle-stories that occur only in Mark’s gospel: the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida, and today’s story of the healing of the deaf-mute. Both stories reveal to us the truly human face of Jesus who responds with compassion to people’s infirmities. But they also reveal the healing powers of the promised Messiah who will ‘open the eyes of the blind’ and ‘unseal the ears of the deaf’ (Isaiah).
However, in both Markan stories, Jesus is also the reluctant Messiah who performs his miracles out of public view and orders people not to tell anyone! Biblical scholars have long debated the meaning of the so-called “messianic secret” in Mark’s gospel. We may say it did not work very well, as the disciples could not hold their tongues, proclaiming to all who would listen: “he makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak”!
Another explanation is that Jesus does not want people to focus on him, but on the ‘kingdom of God’. Most importantly, although exhibiting miraculous powers, Jesus does not want to be identified as some kind of celebrity or political Messiah since, in his own words, “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45). Indeed, the full reality of Jesus’ messiahship could only be revealed in the experience of the Cross which is also at the heart of true discipleship.
In broader perspective, we should realise that the disciples in Mark’s gospel are depicted as lacking faith – or being metaphorically blind and deaf. Even Peter, James and John – who saw Jesus transfigured on the mountain (Mk 9:2-23) – soon fell into crude misinterpretations, thinking of power and fame rather than loving service of others.
So, despite all the miracles in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ full identity as Christ-the-Messiah and Saviour-figure remains a ‘secret’ to the often clueless disciples who fail to see Jesus as much more than a miracle-worker. While Peter does move to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, he then shows his faulty understanding by failing to accept Jesus’ message that the Son of Man is to suffer and die – resulting in Jesus’ rebuke to Peter: “Get behind me Satan!” (Mk 8:27-33).
“Then looking up to heaven, Jesus sighed and said: ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened’”. This healing message of Jesus to the deaf-mute is spoken to his disciples and to us who are often deaf to the full message of the Gospel and dumb in our failure to witness Jesus Christ to the world. Like Jesus’ closest companions, we too are afraid of the full call to discipleship which includes identifying with Jesus the “suffering servant”.
We are invited to find in Jesus’ compassion a truly human way of responding to people in distress. More than this, we are invited to be disciples of Christ the Messiah who brings healing and hope to our world through the reality of the Cross and miracle of the Resurrection.
Gerard Hall SM
© Majellan Media 2021