23rd Sunday Ordinary Time B Sept 10, 2006

Homily — 23rd Sun. OT B MMVI September 10, 2006

Ephphatha

He has done all things well! He makes the deaf hear, and the mute speak.

This miraculous healing of the deaf man with a speech impediment is one of the most elaborate of all Jesus’ healings. Sometimes, Jesus healed with just a word or a touch. Sometimes, Jesus even healed a person a great distance away from Him with a thought.

But on a few occasions, Jesus performed a number of actions — a combination of words, gestures, and touches — before the full healing of the person took place.

In this Gospel, Our Lord does seven actions before the deaf man with a speech impediment is healed:

1) Jesus takes the man aside;
2) He puts His fingers in the man’s ears;
3) Jesus spits;
4) He touches the man’s tongue;
5) He looks up to Heaven;
6) He groans;
7) and finally, He says “Ephphatha!” — “Be opened!”

And after these seven steps, the man begins to hear clearly and speak plainly for all to understand.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus takes these seven steps to heal this man of his natural deafness and speech impediment, so that we might know the seven steps we must undergo to be healed of our spiritual deafness and speech impediments.

For how many of us can truly say we hear clearly the voice of God speaking to us, showing us the path we must take, revealing to us the true state of our souls, the vices we must root out and the virtues we must cultivate?

And how many of us can really speak clearly and articulately to others the language of God’s love and truth? Even the best of us seem to be unable to convey the Catholic Faith to the younger generation and to unbelievers, due to a spiritual speech impediment on our part, and perhaps a spiritual deafness on theirs, which are widespread afflictions in our day and age.

So let’s briefly look at these seven steps Jesus wants us to undergo in order that we might clearly hear His voice, and effectively speak His praises.

The first three, steps 1, 2, and 3, are actually steps we must take, while the last three, steps 5, 6, and 7, are steps Jesus takes in us, if we let Him do so. And the crucial middle step, step 4, is something both God and we must do together.

First step. The Gospel says Jesus took the man off by himself away from the crowd. We cannot hear Jesus if we are constantly surrounded by the noises of the world. We have to get away from the crowd, away from the cacophony of noises: the sounds of the media, the voices of people vainly praising us, or criticizing us, the noise of those telling us to buy this product, or to indulge in that sin. To be healed we must first turn aside from all that noise and enter into that quiet which is daily prayer.

Second, Jesus put His fingers into the man’s ears, blocking out the sound waves of the world. When Ludwig Von Beethoven began growing deaf, he used to carry around with him a big trumpet shaped hearing devise, like those old Victrola Record Player horns, which he’d stick in his ear to hear a person with.

Jesus wants us to use Him as a “hearing aid”. To listen using His ears only. Let he who has ears to hear, hear me. So when we’re out in the world, we need to learn to block our ears to all the world’s noises and listen only to the voice of the Lord.

The third step Jesus does is spits. What does Jesus’ spit have to do with our hearing Him and speaking His praises?

Perhaps the answer can be found in the Book of Revelation, Chapter 3, where Jesus says “I wish you were either hot or cold. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Spiritual lukewarmness leads quickly to spiritual deafness and dumbness. And unless we shake off lukewarmness, and we strive to fan into flame our faith life, Jesus will never be able to heal us.

We now come to the crucial Middle Step Four — Jesus touched the man’s tongue.

In a few moments the very same Jesus will touch our tongue, in the Holy Eucharist. And if we prepare to receive Holy Communion by those first three steps, by first turning away from the world, blocking out all voices but God in our hearts, and repenting of our spiritual laziness and lukewarmness, we also will be well on our way to being healed.

Because once a person has made it to step four, he or she just needs to sit back and let Jesus do the last three steps.

After touching the man’s tongue, Jesus looks up to Heaven. Christ looks up to Heaven after touching our tongues because that’s where we are after receiving Him worthily in Holy Communion: in the heavenly realm, joined to Him. Sursum Corda, Lift up your hearts; The Lord has lifted them up to Him.

And after that, step six: Jesus groans. He begins to groan within us! Like a baby begins to speak by first making baby noises, so we first make baby noises in the spirit before we learn to speak fully. (Some Catholics see the gift of speaking in tongues as the spirit groaning in a kind of baby Christian talk. Others also see Gregorian Chant as a kind of groaning in the spirit. In any case,) St. Paul in the letter to the Romans says the Spirit himself prays in us with inexpressible groanings.

Finally, after leading us through the first six steps, Jesus says to us “Ephphatha” — “Be Opened!” And with those words and those seven steps, we can now hear clearly the Lord’s Voice, we are now able to speak clearly the language of the Spirit.

Our words become His Words, our words become Spirit and Life, our words become living and effective, and sharper than a two edged sword.

Our deafness and speech impediments will be gone, my brothers and sisters, if only you and I acknowledge our deafness and dumbness and move those seven steps closer to Jesus.

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