This week’s reflection comes from the Gospel of Mark 7:31-37.
Have you ever become completely frustrated when multitasking? Perhaps you were driving and looking for a certain address and felt a need to turn off the radio to concentrate. Maybe you closed your eyes while listening to a story or song so you could concentrate on the words.
Have you ever been so focused on a task you missed someone calling your name? We do these things sometimes because of our need to concentrate. God has blessed us all with the gift of concentration that gives us the ability to focus on only one thing at a time when we need to.
Gifts like speech and hearing are essential for us to be able to understand others as well as to hear the message of Christ. The story of the deaf-mute provides guidance for those of us who find the Gospel difficult to understand sometimes. It highlights the struggles of people who fail to bear witness to Christ because they are deaf to his word or feel uncomfortable proclaiming it.
When we are deaf to the words of Jesus, we also suffer a spiritual speech impediment. The best way to overcome our deafness and difficulty speaking is by focusing our mind and heart of the Word of God – something that is not easy to do when life surrounds us with so many distractions.
A parallel exists between the deaf-mute in today’s Gospel and Jesus’ disciples. The man Jesus healed was unable to speak and hear properly. Yet even the disciples could not proclaim the Gospel until they understood Jesus’ message more fully. They, too, needed healing, but their healing came more slowly during the extended period of time they spent with Christ.
Why did Jesus take the deaf man away from the crowd to heal him? Why is this healing described so graphically with mud and saliva? Jesus could simply have said a word and the man would have been cured. However, he used mud and saliva to remind us all that we are made from the earth and the miraculous breath of God. Speech impediments and deafness (including the inability to hear God) are often healed away from crowds in a quiet place of prayer where the ailing person can focus on Christ without being overwhelmed with meaningless noise once hearing and speech are restored.
Jesus took the deaf man from the crowd to heal him. Taking him to a peaceful place made it easier to be able to hear the word of God. That’s why we need to distance ourselves from the chaos around us and listen to the word of God in Scripture as well and the conversation we have with God in our heart. The secrets of the Gospel are revealed in the quiet of contemplation.
Some people might hear Jesus’ message, yet fail to put it into practice. St. James tells us that failure to live the Gospel is like looking in a mirror and then forgetting what you look like when you walk away (James 1:23-27). Receive the word of God in your hearts with joy and watch miracles happen. The early church cherished the word of God so much that many believers died for it because they believed the words of Jesus would lead them to eternal life.
The first Christians were a very small minority. Proclaiming faith in Christ was dangerous in those days. If you knew your focus and dedication to God could cost you your life, where would you stand? They met in secret places, often in the private homes of other Christians where they could focus on Christ. It was among these communities that they focused on the word of God and converted. Once Christianity became legal these homes and secret places where they met often became churches.
As individuals and as a community of believers we need to ask, “Are we listening to God?” As individuals and as a community, do we fully understand the message of Jesus? As individuals and as a community do we need to come to Jesus for healing? Do we have a speech impediment when it comes to speaking openly about our faith? If we are in need of healing, then we should try to heal in private where we can focus only that task, and then proclaim in public.
With the pandemic we have to make personal choices about returning to community prayer. Our church is fully open now as are many other communities in our area. For those whose health is frail please know that you are in our prayers and we look forward to the day of your return.
The Rev. James Williams is pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church.