The Man Who Could Not Hear
Father Hanly’s homily for 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, offers beautiful insights into the story of the man who could not hear.
First Reading: Isaiah 35:4-7
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 146:7, 8-9, 9-10
Second Reading: James 2:1-5
Gospel: Mark 7:31-37
(Apologies, beginning of homily missing)
… she was saying to me: “Father! Father!”
And I went out, and there she was and she kept pointing at her ears, you know. And I said, “Can I help you?” And she’s pointing at her ears and I finally said, “I think you’d better sit down.”
So I got her a chair and she was sitting there and then she takes out of her bag a little box. And in the box are two ear plugs, they looked like ear plugs, but they are really for hearing, you see.
And she grabs one, and it’s made of plastic and there’s a little space for a kind of a tiny transmitter. And she reaches in, and she’s very upset and she feels embarrassed, and she’s trying to get the transistor into the ear plug so she can put it in her ear, you see. And I was going to help her, but I’m hopeless at that, I mean I can’t even get my shoes on straight.
Anyhow, she finally got it in and she put it in her ear and she said, “Now I can hear you.”
And I was reading today’s Gospel, which is “Jesus healed the Deaf Man,” you see.
The deaf and dumb man was brought to Jesus and they asked that he would lay his hands upon him.
And Jesus took him aside and he touched him. He put his fingers in the ear and then he put his finger on the mouth of the deaf and dumb man, and then he prayed to heaven and said, “Ephphatha!” and the man could hear and the man could talk, and everyone was amazed.
Well, she looks at me and I look at her and I say, “This is happening before my very eyes.”
Anyhow, she talked to me and she said, “You know, I really don’t like being deaf. I can hear a little bit, but hardly at all now, and I hope I didn’t intrude on you.”
And I said, “No, I know how you feel, because I’m getting hard of hearing also.”
So we began to talk about that and she said, “Well,” she said, “you know, I don’t know why God….I was very angry with God for many, many years, because I was losing my hearing and that. But now I feel, well, there must be His purpose and His meaning, and so I’m no longer angry at Him and I try to do my best.”
And I said, “Do you feel like people are staring at you all the time?”
And she said, “Yes, because, you see, unless I’ve got my ear plugs in, I don’t know what they’re saying, and I’m afraid to say anything for fear I might say the wrong thing and, if I say the wrong thing, they’ll think I’m crazy and they’ll call the police or something.”
And I said, “Yeah, I have that feeling sometimes, more and more now I am not hearing and I have to say, ‘Would you repeat that please?’”
And it’s very embarrassing, because there was a time when you had great confidence in company and, all of a sudden, just not being able to hear clearly and you begin to fake it a little bit. I would say what I do is I say, “Pardon me, would you repeat it?” and when they repeat it and I still don’t get it, I say, “Thank you!” and smile as if I did, you see.
Anyhow, I was telling her this story that helped me. The story was when I was in Wah Fu Chuen, Chi Fu Fa Yuen, in Yu Chun Keung, I was in charge of Yu Chun Keung Memorial College and the school there.
I was there for about a few weeks and I said to one of the teachers, I said, “You know, Edward is amazing,” this one man, “he looks happy all the time. The rest of us look glum, and we’ve got all kinds of pressures, and we’re running here and there, and we’re doing the school work, and we’re preparing our lessons, and he walks around smiling all the time, you see.”
And she says, “Yes, he’s deaf.” (Congregation laughs.)
And I said, “That’s it. In Hong Kong, blessed are the deaf, because they have quiet and peace!” (Congregation laughs.)
So she laughed, she really laughed out loud, and it kind of let her relax and she said, “How old are you?”
And I said, “Well, I’m seventy-seven.”
And she said, “Well, I’m your little sister, because I’m only seventy-five.” (Congregation laughs.)
We talked for a bit of time and it was really nice. And she talked about her being much, much, much more hard of hearing than me, and the difficulties, but you could manage well.
And then she said, “I’ll always remember your story, because, every time I get mad at God for making me deaf, I’ll say to myself, ‘Well there are certain advantages, you know. If you’re deaf, you miss an awful lot of nonsense in your life!”
Why do I say that?
Because Mark is talking about deaf people, you see. Mark is going to tell the story of how Jesus heals the deaf.
But the funny thing about Mark is he’s very tricky. He’s not talking about deaf people at all. He’s talking about people who don’t listen, who don’t hear. There’s a difference between a deaf person who cannot hear and a person who doesn’t listen and doesn’t hear.
And, all of a sudden, I began to realise that me and this lady were talking to each other and listening to each other very intently, because both of us were struggling with the same problem.
Jesus, the way he treats the deaf man, is quite lovely.
He doesn’t put the poor man in the front of this crowd that brought him and, of course, they want to see the miracle, and jump up and down, you know, and maybe sell tickets for the next one, or whatever it is.
He knows that the man is embarrassed. He can’t talk. He doesn’t know what’s going on. He doesn’t know whether they are laughing at him or whether he is welcome. And he is confused. And so Jesus leads him aside, away from the crowd.
And then the next thing he does is quite lovely. The next thing he does is he tells him what he is going to do for him. But he knows the man can’t hear, so he touches his ears and he puts his finger on his mouth, and the man realises that the healer is going to heal him.
And then, when the man is healed, he says to him, “Now, don’t tell anybody, because they’re looking for miracles, but what I have given you is ears to hear, ears to hear and a mouth to praise.” And he sends him off, as he usually did, to the Temple of Jerusalem, where he could give thanks for his healing.
And then it dawned on me that what Mark is also telling us: it’s a liturgy, you see. It’s a liturgy, you notice?
Jesus takes him aside, puts his fingers in his ears, puts his finger on his lips, and then he says, prays over him and says, “Ephphatha!” which means “Be opened!” And the man’s ears opened and he could speak. This…
What’s the difference between a healing and a liturgy?
Well, a good example would be if you have a young man and he wants to marry a young woman and they’re sitting in her living room and he says to her, “I love you, Mary, I really love you,” that’s one thing.
But if he comes to St Margaret’s church and she’s wearing a long gown, and there’s solemn music from Mozart and there’s a choir singing, and the books are read and the readings are read and they are full of what it means to love and care, and then they come together and they say, “Mary, I ask you to be my wife. I promise to be true to you, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honour you all the days of my life.”
Now that’s liturgy. The difference between liturgy and passing remarks is that liturgy is forever.
When Mark talks about the man born who was deaf and he could not speak, he’s talking about us. He is talking about us in this way: he is saying, “I’m not interested in the sounds you hear with your ears and what you say with your mouth. I’m interested in whether the sounds you hear in your ears are listened to by your heart and whether the words of praise that come forth from you always come from your heart.”
And this is why, when we baptise a little child, after the baptism and after the lighted candle, the Light of the World, is given to the godparents, and after this, the priest picks up the child and he touches the ears and he touches the mouth and he says the prayer, “My little child, may God soon open your ears to hear His word and open your mouth that you might give Him praise.” And that means for always.
We are all blind, we are all deaf, we are all in need of God’s healing.
But the healing that God wants for us, is not to solve our eye problems or our ear problems. He wants us to solve the problems of the heart.
So what we see, we see the glory that God has given us, to see the world as He sees it. And when we hear, He gives us the glory of His name that we might hear all the wonders of the Word of God as it comes to us and He gives us a mouth to sing His praise.
This is what Mark is saying. He’s saying we are a community of people and we should be listening to each other, not with our ears, but with our hearts. And we should be praising each other, not with our mouth, but with our heart as well.
And so this very short little Gospel is said every time a child is baptised.
And it will live forever in the liturgy of the church, because it is teaching us a fundamental truth: you must speak with your heart, hear with your heart, love with your heart, and then you will understand that God is with us.