(Begin homily by moving lips and ‘saying’ the following without vocalizing…) [I know that you cannot ‘hear’ me at the moment. That is intentional. I want you to experience the world as it is experienced by a deaf person. Lots of sights, vibrations, movements and gestures. But no sound. Unless you can read lips, you will have no idea what I am talking about. And if you can read lips, don’t say anything to the ‘hearing only folks’. This will be our little secret.]
If any of you were frustrated by that last little bit, then welcome to the world of the deaf man in today’s gospel for every moment of his life. Movement, gestures, facial expressions, but no sound. It is hard to imagine what it would be like to be unable to hear. My love for music, ability to play the guitar, – even the ability to have normal ‘conversations’ –to speak – would be so impacted by that inability to hear. Certainly there are other ways to connect, but they are not the same. I know about sign language and reading lips. In this modern era of computer screens and print media and texting, there are ways to ‘connect to people’ electronically. However, to be unable to hear makes establishing the human connections that foster our growth an infinitely more difficult process than it already is.
I think we are kind of ‘hard wired’ for the connection that is conveyed by sound, by inflection, by tone of voice. To hear someone call your name in love is so formative, so creative, so redemptive in our communication. I think, if given that awful choice to only retain one of your five senses, I would keep hearing. It matters that we are able to both ‘hear’ what others say in connecting to us, and that we are able to speak to those who matter to us the things that are important. To be cut off from both of those avenues of connection – that would be very difficult for us. Yet, that is exactly the condition of the man in today’s miracle – deaf with a speech impediment.
With that as a backdrop, there is this little detail in the midst of the story that Mark records which is vitally important. It is about HOW Jesus connects to this man. When the crowds bring the man to Jesus, what does Jesus do? He leads him away from the crowd, from the visual jumbo that would/could be overwhelming to a person who main ‘input’ comes from his eyes. He takes him away from the madness of movement, away from the chaos. That also allows him to ‘lower his guard.’ You and I get so many ‘warning symbols’ of danger through auditory cues. Not a deaf man. So they develop a hypersensitivity to the touch to warn them of danger. Jesus takes him to a safe place, away from a crowd that would make him so anxious, and even fearful. There, away from those ‘distractions’, Jesus can address him in a way that brings him to hearing.
Then, the touching of his tongue and putting of fingers in his ears would be physical sensations that would connect the man to Jesus, and let this man who has difficulty communicating know that Jesus was about to do something to his hearing and his speaking. Jesus has his full attention now. NOW he can speak that simple word of command – Ephphatha – be opened. “Connected” to Jesus, whatever it was that was blocking the communication, that was both keeping the words out from the deaf man’s world, and trapped inside his inability to speak – it disappears. Once the connection is made, the deaf man’s whole world changes.
I wonder how many of us ‘hearing folk” long for and desire that same kind of treatment from the ones we love? We long to be able to say what matters and to hear what matters. But we’re blocked from those connections. We’re stuck in our patterns of “How are you?” “Fine.” “How was work?” “Fine.” And we never get down to revealing who we are or to ask who the other is. The connection that we long for isn’t happening, and it isn’t happening precisely because we are caught up in the craziness of our lives and the crowdedness of our world. Like the deaf man, we need to be pulled aside by someone who loves us, someone who can meet us where we are, and speak the words that free us from our blocked and stuck and broken worlds.
If you know that experience at all, then there is good news to share. The same Jesus who met and cured the deaf man wants to meet us at this altar. He invites us to step away, for a while, from the crowdedness of our sometimes unconnected world. To step away from all that keeps us unconnected to him, the source of our life and love. He is before us, asking us to let him touch our ears and our tongues, that we might hear the words of love and affirmation, the words of challenge and mission, and then share that good news and task with all we meet.
To foster that connection, I invite you to three practices to help you live this gospel.
- Travel in silence one day this week in your car, your walk from the dorms to campus, from wherever. Unplugged to your cell phone, text messages and the like. Enter the silent world of the deaf man – and let the silence allow that voice within to connect you to your own heart, to your deepest desires, your truest self.
- Then, connect to someone who matters to you in a different way. Go ‘off by yourself, away from the crowd.” I know a married couple who schedule a monthly ‘date night’ – away from the kids and cell phones and crowded routines. Perhaps you’ll linger over an extra morning cup of coffee. But connect to someone away from the usual routines and see what conversation arises.
- Allow the Lord to have a conversation with you. If you’re like me sometimes, we go through our prayers, pray for those who asked our prayer, and then we’re back at the business of life. Try a little silence on your end. Just 3 minutes of quiet in your prayer routine – 3 minutes of listening instead of speaking. 3 minutes of Jesus touching your ears. See what you hear.
It is easy, even for us hearing folks, to not be able to hear and speak the deepest truths about what matters. The good news? – Our Lord stands ready to help us make those connections…