Restoring Man in Christ
by Rev. Jerome A. Magat
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
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."
At first glance, the actions taken by Our Lord to heal the deaf and mute man may seem somewhat unusual and perhaps intrusive. The thought of putting one’s finger in another person’s ears or applying saliva on another person’s tongue offends our notions of personal space and hygiene. A more studied examination of this physical healing, however, demonstrates the restorative power of God working within the soul.
First, we observe that Jesus takes the man away by himself, away from the crowd. This action reminds us that God relates to us as individuals. For example, when we confess our sins, God takes us away to be with Him in the privacy of the confessional. He takes us away from the activity of the world to be alone with Him so that He can open to us His inner life and pour His grace into our soul to heal us, as we bear our soul to the priest.
Second, it is worth noting that the use of spittle to heal infirmities was not uncommon in Our Lord’s day since saliva was believed to have curative qualities. While touching the deaf and mute man, Jesus looks up to heaven, acknowledging that it is God who is the source of all healing. The effect of Jesus placing His finger into the deaf and mute man’s ears is expressed in the hymn “Veni Creator.” In this hymn, the Holy Spirit is referred to as digitus parernae dexterae – the finger of the right hand of the Father who effects in us supernatural life. It is an allusion to the creation of Adam and the regeneration of fallen man in baptism.
In fact, the events of this Gospel reading form a portion of the Rite of Baptism for Children. After the lighting of the baptismal candle, the celebrant touches the ears and mouth of the child with his thumb and says, “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb (mute) speak. May He soon touch your ears to receive His word and your mouth to proclaim His faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.” This part of the rite reminds us that before a person can believe in God, he must first receive that virtue of faith from him. It is only after hearing God’s word and accepting it in faith that the human person can proclaim God’s praises and His mighty works. Therefore, it is not simply the human person acting alone when believing, trusting and loving God. Rather, it is God who extends His hand toward us in the sacrament of baptism in order to give us the capacity to believe, trust and love Him as He desires. In His graciousness, God gives us these theological virtues of faith, hope and love through no merit of our own. They are completely a gift from God.
More than just the story of a miraculous cure, the healing of the deaf and the mute man may be understood as an analogy for the restoration of fallen man through baptism and a sign of the new dignity that man assumes through this sacrament because God has made His dwelling within him.
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