Mark: 7:31-37
Allow Him to Take Us Away
by Rev. Matthew H. Zuberbueler
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."

A certain lesser known country music song suggests we can learn to listen for the sound of the breeze dying down and, even better, for the sound of the sun going down. In hectic Northern Virginia, the conditions for such listening can seem scarce. Still, the refinement within ourselves of an attentive listening spirit can at once help our prayer, balance our lives and keep us in tune with reality.

An ongoing friendship with God will necessarily involve learning to recognize the way God speaks to us. (Hint: Most likely we won’t hear voices). A fruitful way to test our listening skills could be to reflect on how our lives and prayer would be if we could not hear at all. Might the plight of the deaf man help us to navigate the noise this world offers?

In the Letter to the Romans (Rom 10:16-17), St. Paul writes that “faith comes from what is heard.” Consider the man in Sunday’s Gospel who has the healing encounter with Jesus. The text does not say if he had always been deaf. If so, he would have had to guess what sound sounds like. He would have been experiencing without sound the actions of the people around him who were bringing him to Jesus. In the best scenario he might have had friends close to him who were able to convey to him something about the man Jesus — about the great miracles he was accomplishing and His powerful teachings. The deaf man was accustomed to living without hearing sounds but, in his way, he could still hear — and listen.

It seems evident that he was not resistant to the faith of the people around him. Understanding that this Teacher, this Rabbi, this man Jesus might heal his hearing, the deaf man finds himself on the verge of a new kind of life. What was he thinking? Perhaps he was wondering what the experience of sound is like. Could he even imagine what he had been missing? What sound would he hear first if this Healer heals him? Will it work? Please, please let it work. Make me whole. Let me hear what they hear.

Face to face with Jesus, the man, with attentive and keen vision and well-developed perception, notices everything. He will cooperate. He will do what is asked of him. Jesus does something very interesting that merits reflection: He leads the man “by himself away from the crowd.” Why does Jesus do this? It seems more than coincidental that the preference of Jesus for keeping the miracle quiet and on the “down-low” would make the man’s first experience of sound an experience free from noise. How gracious is the Lord Jesus. How attentive to the needs of this suffering child of His. The account of the miracle records only one word spoken by Jesus to the deaf man: “Ephphatha!” (“Be opened!”). With that one word, having put His fingers in the man’s ears, Jesus gives the man the experience of sound.

It seems likely (although we don’t know for sure) that Jesus would have spoken more words to the healed man. But even if He didn’t it is beautiful to imagine that the man’s first experience of the world of sound, away from the noise of the crowd, was peaceful. His first moment in the world of sounds was not a startling one. Jesus took him far enough away from the crowd to keep his new experience in accord with his previous experience. The voice of Jesus or the sound of the breeze (maybe a bird singing?) would be harmonious with his new gift. In any case, it is likely that the man’s appreciation for sound was all the more keen because it was something he had never taken for granted.

When we pray, we need not seek or expect to hear voices. We should, however, allow our constant approach to Jesus to be one that allows Him to take us away from the noise, even if it is still noisy all around us. The gracious God will remove us from the noise and help us to listen. He will teach us to be attentive to His presence and His ways.

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