23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Ephphatha

 
In some ways, what we do at Eucharist every week is a kind of “practice field” for how we should behave when we leave the altar to return to our daily lives as Christians in the world.  If we really listen, if we are truly paying attention to what The Word is saying to us, then we will have recognized the true meaning of what we are experiencing; we will truly know the one we seek. And maybe we may be awakened to the fact that what we are hoping for in a messiah and what we actually have in Jesus, are very different indeed!

The cure of the deaf-mute in today's Gospel passage points to something beyond the merely physical - it is much more than just the healing of a person in need.   Jesus constantly surrounded himself with those who were the outcasts of society, those "on the fringe" - people whose lives were considered to be less than perfect, less than whole. He embraced those whose eyes could not see, but within whose hearts shined the light of understanding. He touched those whose ears were stopped up tight, and yet were those who heard his message as clear as a bell from deep within their being.  And he held close those whom society and religion saw as diseased or sinful, because he was able to look beyond outward appearances to find their inner worth.

Most of us can hear.  But the kind of hearing we need for our Christian life is a much deeper reality – it is a hearing that causes a different way of thinking and behaving. A community who has heard the Gospel should behave quite differently as a result of what was heard. Such a community would no longer judge people by the usual standards of the world, or by its own or individual standards. Such a community would not judge at all.
 
We sometimes need a hearing aid to hear the voices of the poor, the very young and elderly, the abused and neglected, the disenfranchised and outsiders. These outsiders are harder to hear than those who think like us, who act like and who have the same religious and social beliefs as we. Sad to say, we Christians even marginalize our own – we like to put others into neat little “cubby-holes” – to separate ourselves from one another by tacking labels upon one another and thus polarizing each other.   It’s almost as if our ears are still “stopped up” and we cannot hear anything beyond our own words.
 
I spend a lot of time each week surfing the Internet reading articles and blogs that clearly interest me. There is a wide diversity of Catholic thinking and verbosity all throughout the Internet. I enjoy pouring over the news of what is happening in our Church today: whether it has to do with liturgical change, the bishops’ position on health care, the Vatican visitation of women religious or simply the Church’s involvement in the political and social scene. Some of this I agree with because it shares the same vision that I have of the Church’s worth in this world of ours. Much of it, however, is very different from the manner which - I believe - the Church’s activity should take. I guess I continue to do this every week because I feel it’s necessary for me to see both sides of a story in order to better understand what others within our church community are saying about our community – and the only way to do that is to “listen.”
 
But what I find disturbing is to read the many hateful comments by members of our own Catholic community towards those who hold dissimilar views or whose faith is expressed differently. I sometimes wonder if we are truly listening at all, or if we have even allowed the Lord to get near enough to us to open our ears with his healing touch.
 
I don’t pretend to know “what Jesus would do” or how he will judge when – or if - the time comes. I simply take refuge in His own words which tell us that there is room for everyone in His father’s house and that no matter which path we may take, He will always be there alongside us, walking with us, watching over us and guiding us. And that’s enough for me.
 
We need to listen. But when we do listen to one another, we need to know how to respond to what we have heard.  I would tend to think that this is why we gather week after week as a community of listeners and say, through our worship together, "Speak Lord, your servants are listening." This implies that there is still much for us to hear and that no one of us has a complete hold on the total message. We should probably add, "And when we do hear you, our ears will be opened and we will speak plainly about what we have heard."
 
Christ has touched our ears and opened them to hear the Gospel and having heard it, we have received a whole new way of listening and acting. The deaf man, once cured, speaks "plainly" - and so should we speak and act plainly as witnesses to the Gospel – a way of life that we are still in the process of learning.
 
If our ears are opened to God's Word, we will hear the cry of those in need, whose voices are ignored because they don't “fit in”; we will hear and speak "plainly" for them when they need our voice. We can keep our ears opened in our own community - and in our world - to hear and respect what others are saying. We can give attention to all those who need good listeners, and when the time comes we will be able to speak to them and for them, with respect. We will then have ears open to the interior voice that speaks to us in the silence of our prayer and quiet moments; the voice that guides, encourages and enables us to be Jesus' disciples in a world of self-imposed, selective deafness.
 
The healing of the deaf-mute is a lesson that we all need to remember when the weather worsens, when the winds whip up, when we cover our ears to that which makes us afraid or uncomfortable, and when we cry out from the depths, hoping that God will answer.  
 
And we are clearly reminded that we cannot exist without the support and love of one another. It begins with being open (Ephphatha) to one another – and it moves beyond simply “hearing” to actually “listening.”