Sunday Sep 6, 2015
A Reflection on Mark 7:31-37 N.A.B.
By: Larry T
How can expert knowledge develop into ignorance? Give a master electrician a book promoting a new theory on what causes circuit breakers to trip, then wait a month, and ask him if he has read it. The answer will typically be, no. Why wouldn’t he read it? Sometimes it’s because, after all, he is a master electrician, and he considers himself an expert on all things electrical, so he refuses to read and learn new ideas. What’s worse, he might even scoff at the new concept. When expert knowledge is self-sufficient, or arrogant and haughty, it can lead to ignorance. In a sense the electrician is deaf because his mind is closed, and since he refuses to learn new concepts, he cannot teach them, so he also has a speech impediment. But he isn’t alone; this is one of the fundamental flaws of our human nature. In Scripture the best example we have of this is Saint Paul.
Paul (his Roman name) or Saul (his Hebrew name) had been taught by the greatest teachers in Judaism. He was a devout Pharisee, an expert on Mosaic Law. He was so arrogant and haughty in his superior knowledge of the Law, and all things Jewish, that he not only refused to listen to anything Jesus said, but considered him a blasphemer. Saul, the single-minded persecutor of Christians; went so far as to endorse the stoning of Stephen for blasphemy (Acts 8:58). He was deaf to Jesus and the truth, and since he didn’t hear the truth, he couldn’t speak it, so it follows that he had a speech impediment as well. These are the same ailments that plagued all humanity before the coming of Jesus. It was only when the Lord whacked Saul on the head with a spiritual club that his hearing and speech disorders were healed, and he went on to become a great evangelist, theologian, and saint.
This Sunday we read about the healing of a deaf man who had a speech impediment. It is one of two miracle healing stories that are exclusive to the Gospel of Mark. It’s so easy to get caught up in the details of the healing act itself that we forget the purpose of the miracle healings performed by Jesus. These acts proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom of God through Jesus to a world that had become unable to hear the true word of God.
31 Again he left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis.
32 And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him.
33 He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue;
34 then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”)
35 And [immediately] the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly.
36 He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it.
37 They were exceedingly astonished and they said, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and [the] mute speak.” - Mark 7:31-37 N.A.B.
In this reading, verse 37 echoes Isaiah 35:4-6 which was written some eight-hundred years earlier; it identifies the signs of the arrival of God’s Kingdom:
4 Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
With divine recompense
he comes to save you.
5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
6 Then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the dumb will sing.
Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and other Old Testament prophets constantly preached to obstinate and rebellious people who refused to hear and pay attention to God’s commands (e.g., Jeremiah 5:21, 9:19, and Ezekiel 12:2). And whenever Jesus said, “Whoever has ears ought to hear”, he was imploring his audience to listen to him so that they could receive the truth, which is God (Mt 11:15, 13:9, 13:43, Mk 4:9, 4:23, Lk 8:8, and 14:35).
Why does mankind remain obstinate and rebellious, content in arrogant and haughty knowledge when it comes to God and his commands? Pope Benedict wrote, “God himself is constantly regarded as a limitation placed on our freedom that must be set aside if man is ever to be completely himself. God, with his truth, stands in opposition to man’s manifold lies, his self-seeking and his pride.” - (Jesus of Nazareth, The Infancy Narratives, Pope Benedict XVI, 2012)
Ironically, setting God aside so that we can be all that we can be is one of the great illusions of our modern time because it is a hollow promise that leads to frustration and emptiness. It is only when we hear and obey God that we experience the joy of becoming what we are truly intended to be.