Lectio: 23rd Sunday of ordinary time (B)
The healing of the deaf and dumb.
Jesus gives back to the people the gift of speech.
1. Opening prayer
Lord Jesus, send Your Spirit to help us to read the Scriptures with the same mind that You read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the Bible,
You helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of Your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create in us silence so that we may listen to Your voice in Creation and in the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May Your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, may experience the force of Your resurrection and witness to others that You are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of You, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us the Father and sent us Your Spirit. Amen.
a) A key to the reading:
This Sunday’s liturgy shows us Jesus healing a deaf and dumb person in the land of the Decapolis and praised by the people thus: “He has done all things well; He even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak!“ This praise is inspired by some passages in Isaiah (Is 29:8-19; 35:5-6; 42:7) and shows that the people saw in Jesus the coming of the messianic times. Jesus Himself had used this same expression in reply to the disciples of John: “Go back and tell John what you hear and see: the blind see again, and … the deaf hear” (Mt 11:4-5).
The early Christians used the bible to clarify and interpret the actions and attitudes of Jesus. They did this in order to express their faith that Jesus was the Messiah, the One who was to fulfill the promise, and so as to be able to understand better what Jesus did and said during those few years that He spent in their midst in Palestine.
b) A division of the text as an aid to the reading:
a geographical description: Jesus is somewhere outside Judea.
the man’s condition: deaf and dumb.
Mark 7:33-34: Jesus’ movements in healing the man.
Mark 7:35: the result of the healing action of Jesus.
Mark 7:36: the recommendation of silence is not obeyed.
Mark 7:37: the praise of the people.
c) The text:
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.”
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) What is the attitude of Jesus towards the deaf and dumb person and towards the people? How do you understand the actions of Jesus: He places His finger in the man’s ears and with His saliva touches the man’s tongue, then, looking up to heaven, he sighs and says, “Ephphatha”?
b) How can we understand Jesus’ concern for taking the man away from the crowd?
c) Why does Jesus forbid the spreading of the news? How do we understand the people’s disobedience of Jesus’ command?
d) What other New Testament and Old Testament texts are connoted or form the basis of this text?
5. Further information on Mark’s Gospel
Mark 7:31: Jesus in the land of the Decapolis
The episode of the healing of the deaf and dumb man is little known. Mark does not state clearly where Jesus is. It is understood that He is somewhere outside Palestine, in the land of the pagans, across a region called Decapolis. Decapolis literally means Ten Cities. This was, in fact, a region of ten cities, southeast of Galilee, where people were pagan and influenced by Greek culture.
Mark 7:32: They brought Him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech.
Even though He is not in His native land, Jesus is known as someone who heals the sick. Thus, the people bring Him a deaf man who has difficulty with his speech. This is someone who cannot communicate with others. He reflects many who today live as a mass in large cities in complete solitude, without the possibility of any communication.
Mark 7:33-34: A different kind of healing
The manner of healing is different. The people thought that Jesus would simply place His hands on the sick person. But Jesus goes beyond their request and takes the man away from the crowd, places His finger in the man’s ears and with His spittle touches the man’s tongue, then looking up to heaven sighs deeply and says, “Ephphatha,” which means “Be opened!” The finger in the ear recalls the magicians’ exclamation in Egypt: “This is the finger of God!”(Ex 8:15) and also the expression of the Psalmist: “You…opened my ear!” (Ps 40:7). The touching of the tongue with spittle gives back the faculty of speech. In those days, people thought that spittle had medicinal value. Looking up to heaven says that the healing is from God. The sigh is an attitude of supplication.
Mark 7:35: The result of the healing
All at once, the deaf man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosed, and the man began to speak correctly. Jesus desires that people might open their ears and loosen their tongues! Today too! In many places, because of an authoritarian attitude on the part of religious powers, people have been silenced and do not speak. It is very important that people regain the power of speech within the Church in order to express their experience of God and thus enrich all, including the clergy.
Mark 7:36: Jesus does not want any publicity
Jesus commands that no one talk about what took place. However, there is an exaggerated importance attached to Mark’s Gospel’s prohibition to spread the news of the healing, as if Jesus had a secret that had to be kept. In fact, sometimes Jesus tells people not to spread news of a healing (Mk 1:44; 5:43; 7:36; 8:26). He asks for silence, but gets the opposite effect. The more He forbids, the more the Good News is spread (Mk 1:28.45; 3:7-8; 7:36-37). On the other hand, in most cases Jesus did not ask for silence concerning a miracle. Once He even asked for publicity (Mk 5:19).
Mark 7:37: The praise of the people
All were in admiration and said, “He has done all things well!” (Mk 7:37). This statement recalls the creation: “God saw all He had made, and indeed it was very good!” (Gen 1:31). In spite of the prohibition, those who had witnessed the healing began to proclaim what they had seen, expressing the Good News in the brief form: “He has done all things well!” It is useless to prohibit them from talking. The inner power of the Good News is such that it spreads itself! Whoever has experienced Jesus has to tell others, whether s/he likes it or not!
ii) Information on the internal divisions of Mark’s Gospel
1st Key: Mark’s Gospel was written to be read and listened to in community.
When one reads a book alone, one can always stop and go back so as to connect one thing with another. But when one is in community and someone else out in front is reading the Gospel, one cannot shout, “Stop! Read that again! I did not understand it well!” For a book to be listened to in community celebrations, it must be divided differently from other books meant for personal reading.
2nd Key: Mark’s Gospel is a narrative.
A narrative is like a river. Going down a river in a boat, one is not aware of divisions in the water. The river has no divisions. It is a single flow, from beginning to end. The divisions are made on the banks, not in the river. For instance, one may say, “The beautiful part of the river that goes from that house on the bend up to the palm tree three bends down river.” But one does not see any division in the water itself. Mark’s narration flows like a river. Listeners come across divisions along its banks, that is, in the places where Jesus goes, in the people He meets, in the streets He walks down. These marginal indications help listeners not to get lost in the midst of so many words and actions of Jesus and concerning Jesus. The geographical setting helps the reader to walk along with Jesus, step by step, from Galilee to Jerusalem, from the lake to Calvary.
3rd Key: Mark’s Gospel was written in order to be read all in one go.
That is how the Jews read the small books of the Old Testament. For instance, on the eve of Easter, they read the complete Canticle of Canticles. Some scholars are of the opinion that Mark’s Gospel was written to be read in its entirety on the eve of Easter. Now, so that the listeners might not get tired, the reading has to have divisions, pauses. When a narrative is long, such as is Mark’s Gospel, the reading needs to be interrupted from time to time. There must be some pauses. Otherwise, the listeners get lost. The author of the narrative provided for these pauses. These were marked by summaries between one long reading and the next. These summaries were like hinges that gathered what was read before and opened the way to what was to come. They allow the narrator to stop and start again without interrupting the flow of the narrative. They help the listeners to take their bearing within the river of the flowing narrative. Mark’s Gospel has several of these pauses that allow us to discover and follow the course of the Good News of God that Jesus revealed and that Mark narrates. In all there are six longer blocks of readings, interspersed with summaries or hinges, where it is possible to take a small pause.
Base on these three keys, we now present a division of Mark’s Gospel. Others divide this Gospel in different ways. Each way has its distinctive character and its value. The value of any division is that it opens several ways of going into the text, of helping us to discover something about the Good News of God and to discern how Jesus opens a way for us to God and neighbor.
Introduction: Mk 1:1-13: Beginning of the Good News
Preparing the proclamation
1st reading: Mk 1:16-3:16: Growth of the Good News
2nd reading: Mk 3:13-6:6: Growth of the conflict
The Mystery appears
3rd reading: Mk 6:14-8:21: Growth of the Mystery
4th reading: Mk 8:27-10:45: Growth of the misunderstanding
The dark light of the Cross appears
5th reading: Mk 11:1-13:32: Growth of the dark light of the Cross
Appearance of rupture and death
6th reading: Mk 14:1-15:39: Growth of the rupture and death
Victory over death appears
Conclusion: Mk 15:42-16:20: Growth of the victory over death
Reappearance of the Good News.
In this division the headings are important. They point to where the Spirit is blowing, to the inspiration that runs through the whole Gospel. When an artist feels inspired, he tries to express this inspiration in a work of art. The poem or image that is the result carries within it this inspiration. Inspiration is like the electric power that runs invisibly through the wires and lights the lamps in our houses. So also, inspiration runs invisibly in the words of the poem or in the form of the image to reveal and light up within us a light equal or almost equal to that which shone in the artist. That is why works of art attract us so much. The same occurs when we read and meditate the Gospel of Mark. The same Spirit or Inspiration that moved Mark to write his text remains present in the thread of the words of his Gospel. By our attentive and prayerful reading of his Gospel, this Spirit begins to act and operate within us. Thus, gradually, we discover the face of God revealed in Jesus and that Mark communicates to us in his book.
6. Psalm 131
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things too
great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a child quieted at its mother's breast;
like a child that is quieted is my soul.
O Israel, hope in the Lord from this
time forth and forevermore.
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank You for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May Your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice what Your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, Your mother, not only listen to but also practice the Word, You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.