Posted April 6, 2011
When the famous preacher, George Whitefield, was preaching outdoors to a great throng, a hardened but curious unbeliever watched from atop a near-by tree, while resisting the teaching by keeping his ears plugged with his fingers. A fly lit on his nose, forcing him to remove his finger from one ear to shoo it away, but just in time to hear Whitefield quote Matthew 11: 15: “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear!” This led him to listen to the rest of the sermon about the willful refusal of many to hear the word of God. The sermon converted him to Christ, and made him into a prayerful evangelizer, converting others by his spoken faith. It can be said that he was doubly “cured” by having his spiritual ears and mouth opened, and thus enabled to hear and speak God’s holy word.
The cure of the deaf-mute by Jesus-recorded only by the evangelist Mark (7:31- 37)-was likewise a double healing of hearing and speech, a miracle that is rich with spiritual implications for us today, twenty centuries later. It represents God’s willingness and desire to heal both faculties of communication, especially the spiritual faculties required for authentic communing-vertically (prayer) and horizontally (charity).
Seeing this healing would have alerted the Jews familiar with the Torah that they were in the presence of God, because of the Scriptures regarding God’s word to Moses in Exodus 4: 10-11: “Who makes man deaf or mute? .. Is it not I, the Lord? (So) it is I who will help you speak. .. ” Moreover, this miracle was one of the proofs that Jesus was the God-Messiah, because of what had been written in the prophecy of Isaiah (35: 4-6 ): “Your God will come … to save you .. .Then will the ears of the deaf be unstopped … and the mute tongue will shout for joy.”
Jesus sighed with pity (v. 34) because of the deaf-mute’s isolation. Being deprived of all conversation, his deafness kept him from hearing others’ input and his muteness kept him from any output describing his own frustration and needs. It was truly a sad case; hence Jesus’ deep sigh. And with no less pity he sighs in compassion as he regards our spiritual isolation with only limited access to his divine input, and our limited ability to provide wholesome spiritual output.
Since the deaf-mute was incommunicative, Jesus resorted to signs. By first plugging the deaf man’s ears, and then withdrawing his fingers he showed that he was “unplugging” or opening the man’s ears. By touching the tongue of the speech-impaired man, he led him to open his mouth to receive from the mouth of God with a physical speech symbol, tongue saliva, the release of his speech impairment; this was reminiscent of Jesus’ own quoting of Deuteronomy 8:3: “Man lives on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Cluttered speech always accompanies congenital deafness because of the inability to hear normal speech; thus the two impairments are connected. Hence, for this double miraculous “opening,” Jesus used only a single one-word command-one that the man could lip-read in his native Syriac, “Ephphatha!” (Be opened!”).
The command, “Ephphatha” also had a spiritual significance; it was the basic battle-cry of the gospel message: “Be open.” It was the basic message of Jesus’ precursor, John the Baptist: “Prepare the way for the Lord. Make straight paths for him” (Matt. 3:3; Mark 1 :3; Luke 3:4; John 1: 23). That is, be open to the coming Messiah and his Good News message.
Openness-that is the first step to good communication or conversation. One must be open to hear and then open to speak. That is, there must be no blockage to input, and no blockage to output for good dialogue. And this two-direction interfacing must thrive between us and God, and also between us and our fellow humans.
We all need, in some degree, to be healed of spiritual deafness so that we can hear God’s voice (“My sheep hear my voice” John 10: 16); and so that we can hear the cries of our fellow humans. Also to some degree, we all need to be healed of spiritual muteness, so that we can speak to God in intimate and meaningful prayer, and so that we can speak out to others about God’s goodness and love for every human. Let us consider both of our spiritual relationships- that is, to God and to others- in the context of openness for input and commensurate output.
A) Double openness in our relationship with God:
St. Ambrose said, “We hear God’s word through revelation, especially Scripture, and we speak to God through prayer.” Thus we hear God’s proclamation of his goodness, and we speak out or proclaim his goodness in praise. We hear him say that he answers prayer, and we speak out our prayer petitions. We hear or perceive deep in our soul his promptings or inspirations of grace, and we speak out or respond in virtuous acts. We hear God urging us to be thankful to him, and we respond by prayers of thanksgiving. We hear him urging us to repentance, and we speak out our contrition, etc.
B) Double openness in our relationship with others:
We hear the cries of the poor and desolate and homeless, and we respond with compassion, love and generosity. We hear their cries of frustration in unexplained suffering, and we speak to them comforting words of God’s understanding and support. We hear their empty words of babbling confusion, and we speak words of evangelization to give them the security of God’s redemptive love.
There is an unusual form of deafness called aphasia, in which a brain-impaired person can hear and understand every sound except words; the patient can recognize the tick of a watch or the song of a bird, and can even read words intelligibly from a book, but words that are heard are merely unintelligible sounds. Jesus quoted Isaiah 6:9- 10 to describe those with spiritual aphasia: “Those on the outside .. . are ever hearing but never understanding” (Mark 4: 12). Many of us need to be opened to hear God’s messages meaningfully. With our spiritual input thus impaired, our output will be proportionately limited. Try a few self-evaluative questions to determine how much we need this double healing:
1) Am I frequently aware of God’s loving presence (Matt 1 :23; 28:20)?
2) Do I realize that God’s kindness leads to repentance (Rom.2:4)?
3) Do I hear God’s often-whispered invitation to prayer (Eph. 6:18)?
4) Do I find great attraction for the Word (bible-reading) (ps. 119:24)?
5) Does “the word of Christ dwell richly” in my heart (Col. 3: 16)?
6) Do I recognize God’s manifold efforts to comfort me (II Cor. 1:4)?
7) Is my mind “set on things above, not on earthly things” (Col. 3:2)?
Do I think often of the reward “that is stored up for me in heaven that I heard about in the word of truth” (Col. 1:5)?
9) Am I as desirous of others’ welfare as I am of my own (Phil. 2:4)?
10) Do I recognize the suffering Christ in others hurting (Matt. 25:40)?
11) Do I compassionate the emptiness of those without Christ (Rom. 2: 14)?
1) Do I often speak out love, adoration and praise to God (Matt. 22:37)?
2) Do I repent immediately on falling into sin? (II Cor. 7:1O)?
3) Do I seek out time for quiet contemplative prayer (Man. 6:6)?
4) Do I pray and meditate on God’s word frequently (ps. 1:2)?
5) Do I use Scripture for “teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (II Tim. 3: 16)?
6) Do I “put to death whatever belongs to earthly nature: impurity, lust, evil desires, greed” (Col. 3:5)?
7) Do I provide hope and encouragement for others (I Th.4:18)?
Do I “bear others’ burdens” (Gal. 6:2)?
9) Do I comfort others lovingly, as God has comforted me (II Cor. 1:4)?
10) Do I always treat others as I would Christ himself (Matt 25:40)?
11) Do I adroitly use every occasion to lead others to Christ (Col. 4:5)?
Let us today, like the deaf-mute, humbly approach Jesus, the one “who makes the deaf hear and the mute speak” and ask him for a deep healing in our spiritual hearing and speech. His loving gentle healing touch will transform our spiri tual hearing and speech, to make us masterful receivers and transmitters of his truth, love and grace.
For information and catalogs of Father Hampsch’s tapes, books and videos. contact:
Rev. John H. Hampsch, cmf
Claretian Teaching Ministry 20610 Manhattan PI, # 120 Torrance, CA 90501-1863
Phone: (310) 782-6408