23rd Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Bubba, Byhalia, MS
When all this COVID mess started I told the seminarians that we would probably be OK if didn't go around licking doorknobs. And here we are this morning witnessing Jesus spitting on some poor soul and touching his tongue! No mask, no gloves, no alcohol wipes. Just spit and touch. Oh, and he commands the man's ears and tongue, “Be opened!” We have here all of the elements of a sacrament: a minister, a sinner, gestures, a physical sign (spit), and a prayer. Through this combination of elements, the man is healed. He hears and speaks. The first thing he hears is Jesus ordering him to keep quiet about the healing. The first words he speaks are words of praise and thanksgiving, spreading his Good News across the district. So much for Jesus' orders! This man's healing is a physical miracle. Mark tells us about it to lend authority to the Lord's overall mission – he really is who he says he is. But what does this healing story tell us about us as followers of Christ? Ask yourself: when am I deaf to the Word of God, to His will for me? When is my witness to Christ impeded by my unwillingness to speak? Christ has healed us of these spiritual aliments. What's stopping you from following in the healed man's footsteps and spreading your Good News wherever you go?
Taking these ailments one at a time. Deafness to the Word of God and His will. We all have a lot vying for our limited attention. Besides the voices of family, friends, and jobs, we have breadth and depth of the internet – news, entertainment, games. We have politicians, actors, singers, sports figures. We are deafened by the sheer volume of digital racket pouring toward us. Sometimes this racket is shoved onto us. And at other times we invite it in. We cultivate it. We entertain it. Why? Escape from boredom. Escape from reality, responsibility, reason. The thrill, the excitement, the rush. Maybe your digital life is more interesting than your real life. Maybe your digital community is more accepting, more loving. Or it appears to be. Maybe you have control among the bytes and digits and very little among flesh and blood. Whatever the reason, this cyber-racket is deafening us to the Word of God spoken through His witnesses. It turns us inward and supplies the stuff of our lives. Illusion, fantasy, simulation, and emptiness. God speaks softly so that we will be attentive. And Christ has healed us so that we might hear.
What about our speech impediments? The man Jesus heals had an impediment b/c he'd never heard his mother tongue spoken. Can we say the same? Do we not know how to bear witness b/c we've never heard a witness to Christ? Do you know the vocabulary and grammar of giving testimony to Christ's mercy in your life? If you know what to say, do you hesitant to speak? Why? Fear of embarrassment? Ridicule? Retaliation? Maybe you don't think you are smart enough or educated enough in theology. Who said anything about theology? You're charged with bearing witness to Christ's mercy in your life. You have a PhD in the field of how the Spirit has led you to Divine Love. Tell that story. Talk openly and honestly about how God moves in your life. Talk about the times you've been moved to sacrificial love, sacrificial forgiveness. Talk about how your prayer life keeps you grounded in Christ. Talk about how your sacramental life keeps the windows and doors of grace wide open. Talk about how your good works manifest God's glory in this hateful, angry, and divided world. Christ has healed your tongue. Speak his truth and let everyone know that he is the Way and the Life.
I know you can feel it too. The world pressing in. It's subtle. It's soft, even gentle at times. But it's there. The times and places and occasions when we are “allowed” to be who and what we are in Christ. Regulations and policies and restrictions pile up over time and hem us in. Ultimately, the idea is to deafen us and silence us. Leave us with nothing to listen to and no one to speak to. This is the Devil's work. What he doesn't understand is that he's doing us a HUGE favor! By pressing, by pushing and shoving, he's forcing us to make a choice, leaving us little to no option but to either speak up or stay quiet. Most will willingly go deaf and mute. Some with resist for a while. And a very few will defy him and listen and speak despite his best efforts. Christ has freed your ears and your tongues. To all of us, God says, “Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication.” No promises of a quick and easy rescue. No promises of revenge or retribution. Just a simple, straightforward promise that we will be vindicated. We have already been vindicated. In Christ, we are healed. In Christ, we are freed. Live that freedom!