Mark: 7:31-37
Restoring Original Goodness 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 intrusive.  The thought of putting one's finger into another person's ears or applying saliva on another person's tongue offends our notions of personal space and hygiene.  And yet, these actions, captured in vivid detail by St. Mark, provide us with rich insights into how God acts in the human soul.  The physical healing that Jesus produces in the deaf and mute man, while historically accurate, also demonstrate the healing and restorative power of God working in our spiritual lives.

Jesus takes the man away by himself, away from the crowd.  This actions should remind us of how God relates to us - as individuals.  For example, when we go to confession, God takes us away to be with Him in privacy.  He takes us away from the activity of the world to be alone with Him so that can open to us His inner life and pour grace into our souls to heal us.  Similarly, the use of spittle to heal 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 paternae dexterae - the finger of the right hand of the Father who effects in us suprenatural life, similar to the bodily effects rendered by Christ in the body of the deaf and mute man.

The events of this Gospel reading also form a portion of the Rite of Baptism of 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 we ought.  We should marvel at how gracious God truly is.  He does not leave it up to us to develop ways in which we should approach Him.  Rather, He gives us the theological virtues of faith, hope and love, and invites us to respond to these virtues given to us through no merit of our own.

The Gospel passage closes with the astonishment of the crowds who exclaim, "Bene omnia fecit - He has done all things well."  This is a direct reference to how God saw all of creation in Genesis 1:31 and declared everything He had made to be very good.  In the same way, Jesus has restored the entire created order by His conquering of sin and death, that which had marred the original beauty of creation.  Thus, the healing of the deaf and mute man is much more than an isolated cure rendered by our Lord.  Rather, it is a reminder that all that God the Father produced in creation is restored and renewed in the healings performed by God the Son and by His glorious passion, death and resurrection.  Our blessed Lord heals and restores both body and soul and returns them to their original goodness.

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