23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 5, 2021

First reading: Is. 35:4–7a

Thus says the LORD: Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing. Streams will burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe. The burning sands will become pools, and the thirsty ground, springs of water.

Second reading: Jas. 2:1–5

My brothers and sisters, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. For if a man with gold rings and fine clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Sit here, please,” while you say to the poor one, “Stand there,” or “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs. Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him?

Gospel: Mk. 7:31–37

Again Jesus left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis. And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment

and begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!”—that is, “Be opened!”—and immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly. He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it. They were exceedingly astonished and they said, “He has done all things well.  He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

In other words Fr. John O’Mahony, SVD (Divine Word Seminary, Tagaytay City)

In reading over this Gospel text, for some strange reason, I was reminded of the late Fr. Wim Vergoosen, SVD. He was a Dutch missionary who died in the Philippines in 2005. I remember his last years in our retirement house at Christ the King, Quezon City. I forget the details of his complicated illness, but it caused him to become totally deaf. As his deafness increased, his speech became more difficult to understand. In particular, I remember his loud booming voice which, upon entering the building, one could hear from a distance. There was nothing wrong with his speech mechanism; it was his deafness that caused the speech problem. He simply could not hear what he was saying. Despite his cheerful welcome, I think he suffered a lot from the frustration all this caused him.

I imagine that the deaf man brought to Jesus also suffered a lot from frustration. Although there were compassionate people who brought him to Jesus, he most probably had to put up with a lot of teasing and even bullying also. Just look around us and see how often people with disabilities (PWDs) are mistreated. People would not have been aware then that the man’s speech impediment could have been easily cured if only he could hear properly. This is still the case even today.

Perhaps Jesus would not have had our present-day knowledge of the man’s situation. But he would have had the medical knowledge of his time. Besides he had something else that transcended all time, and that was his extraordinary love and compassion, which put people in touch with his divine origin. He had a deep personal concern for the deaf man. Taking him away from the crowd was masterful. It must have been so confusing for the man to be surrounded by the buzz of sounds which he had no way of understanding. Then Jesus put real effort into the healing, making full use of the power of touch. How meaningful of Mark to give us here the word “Ephphatha!” (be opened) in the original Aramaic version used by Jesus. The word must have had a unique flavor for him.

All too often, even in our own time, people with disabilities have to endure unnecessary suffering and inconvenience because of ignorance and neglect. But there are also some signs of the coming of the Kingdom proclaimed by Isaiah, in the first reading, as more laws are passed, and better regulations are issued with PWDs in mind. But as Christians we can surely do better even without having to wait for laws to be passed. Let us be more conscious in giving the poor and disabled the best part of our love and care, for “Did not God choose those who are poor (and disabled) in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him?” 

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