Lectio Divina: 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

A Heart to Listen to the Facts

 By Archbishop Francesco Follo

 

Roman Rite

Is 35, 4-7a; Ps 146 Jas 2, 1-5; Mk 7, 31-37

 

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1) The healing of a deaf and dumb heart 

Today’s Gospel passage speaks of a deaf-mute man healed by Jesus. Let us not forget, however, that the Messiah came not only to cure diseases and physical defects. He is the Word made flesh that wants to heal not only the people of Israel that – as often the Prophets denounced – were people who didn’t listen to the word of God and therefore  was unable to give a real answer. Christ wants to heal and speak to all humanity. The fact that this miracle of the deaf-mute man occurs on the territory of Decapolis indicates that Christ is the Word for all mankind and that not listening to God was (and is) a sin from which humanity needs to be saved. It should also be kept in mind that the story also indicates that the salvation brought by Jesus is not only for each man (geographical universality) but also for the whole man (anthropological universality).

Jesus of Nazareth is the Redeemer of all the “parts” of the world and of each “part” of which we are made, even of that part that is still pagan. He is present in the Decapolis[1] that we have in the heart.

It is true that Jesus operates outside the people of Israel. He makes a gesture that is the opening of the field of revelation to all humanity. It is equally true that he is moving in a pagan land and this fact clearly says that He is present everywhere even where we just imagine him absent. He is present in all “heathen lands”, in all the situations ruined by sin.

Jesus of Nazareth, the Redeemer of every man and of the whole man, says a prayer before to save. The Son of God before performing the miracle of the deaf-mute man looks up to the sky – the same gesture he had made before the multiplication of the loaves and fishes (Mk 6:41): the Son of God prays. Sometimes, Jesus did miracles with the authority of his word, we might say in his own name. In this way it proved to be not just a prophet of God, but to be God himself. Other times, as in the case of the deaf-mute man, Jesus uses prayer to teach us that salvation is a pure gift of God’s grace, a gift to ask, not to demand.

Christ’s miracles never have an end in themselves. They are “signs” that announce and inaugurate his Kingdom of truth and love. Signs that contain what the Lord Jesus would like to do in every brother and sister. What Jesus did a day for a person on the physical level indicates what he wants to do every day for every person on the spiritual one? Christ touches the body to heal the spirit. The man healed by Christ was deaf-mute. He could not communicate with others, listen to their voice and express his feelings and needs. If deafness and dumbness consist in the inability to properly communicate with others and to have easy, clear, good and beautiful relations. We must recognize that, more or less, we are all deaf-mute and therefore it is to everyone that Jesus addresses this cry “Ephphatha, Be opened.”

Each of us should let him or herself be brought before the Lord and ask him to open up his or her ears every day to receive His Word of life, even when it is uncomfortable and even when the noise of the people outside and that of passions within us do not let us hear his voice.

 

2) The healed heart speaks the language of love.

The first voice that this healed man could hear was that of Jesus. The first word given to this deaf-mute man was “Ephphatha”, “Open”. And so he could hear the Word of God and welcome it because the opening of the ears involves dilation of the heart in the joy of not simply being called, but to be really “children”.

When in Baptism we became children in the Son, the word “Ephphatha,” “Open” was pronounced and we were open to the Word of God and to the dialogue with our God and Father.

Listening to the Son, the Word of God, makes us like him: children. ” Love does this, it makes the lover like the beloved” (St. Alphonsus Maria de ‘Liguori, Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ). If we persevere in this listening, we can always speak with love. If we listen to Christ, we will be increasingly able to speak like Christ and to say: Jesus. If we are open to the dialogue with the Father, remaining open to his word, we will be increasingly able, by grace, to hear the consolations, suggestions and the loving commands of God and to respond to him with our prayer and our life.

The healed heart listens to God to pray him and ask him to communicate his love to humanity. Jesus teaches us that our Christian life depends on prayer and charity. This is not the place to speak of the relationship between contemplation and action. I just want to remind you that we should not lose ourselves in pure activism. It is necessary that in our activities we let us be penetrated by the light of the Word of God. In this way we learn the true charity and the true service to the other that do not need many things – they certainly need the necessary things- but need above all the affection of our heart and the light of God. The Church always unites the ministry of truth, announcing the word, to the ministry of charity.

All Saints have experienced a profound unity of life between prayer and action, between the total love for God and the generous love for the brothers and the sisters. All Saints show us that it is possible to pray everywhere, even in a concentration camp, as did St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) and  to do good to others as did Saint Maximilian Kolbe who volunteered to die in place of a another. “There is no charity greater than those who give their life for their friends”.

A more normal but not less true way. I should say a way of ordinary sainthood to live this union between prayer and action, is the one of the consecrated Virgins living in the world.

For them, as for all consecrated persons, the life of prayer is the habit to be consciously and constantly in the presence of God and to live in relationship with Him to whom they have donated without reservation.

Their prayer[2] coincides with their lives and their life is their prayer, lived as a daily sacrifice of praise. If the “great” saints have shown that a person can be prayer and prayer house in the drama of a concentration camp or a serious illness, the consecrated Virgins show in their humility that one can be prayer and praying temple of the “banality” of daily life. In their life (= prayer) can be recognized the five characteristics that a well done prayer must have: that is, to be positive, straight, structured, pious and humble[3].  These are the characteristics identified by St. Thomas Aquinas, who defined prayer “expression of desire that man has of God. “

With chaste spousal attitude the consecrated Virgins are constantly listening to and speak the pure and chaste Word of God. This Word is pure Word of Life who speaks from within our life of sinful people, introduces us into life and preserves it in us. Then, through us, it is made known to the whole world. If we listen to this Word with pure heart, it goes, through all the pollution of our human language,  to our neighbor so that he or she is reached by the Word that transmits life to the full.

 

Golden Chain

On Mark 7,31-37

 

Theophylact: The Lord did not wish to stay in the parts of the Gentiles, lest He should give the Jews occasion to say, that they esteemed Him a transgressor of the law, because He held communion with the Gentiles, and therefore He immediately returns.

Wherefore it is said, “And again departing from the coasts of Tyre, He came through Sidon, to the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the borders of Decapolis.”

Bede, in Marc., 2, 31: Decapolis is a region of ten cities, across the Jordan, to the east, over against Galilee (ed. note: It appears, however, from Reland, Pales. v.1, p198, that a portion of Decapolis, including its metropolis, Scythopolis, was on this side Jordan, and therefore this text of St. Mark may be taken literally.) When therefore it is said that the Lord came to the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the borders of Decapolis, it does not mean that He entered the confines of Decapolis themselves; for He is not said to have crossed the sea, but rather to have come to the borders of the sea, and to have reached quite up to the place, which was opposite to the midst of the coasts of Decapolis, which were situated at a distance across the sea.

It goes on, “And they bring Him one that was deaf and dumb, and they besought Him to lay hands upon him.”

Theophylact: Which is rightly placed after the deliverance of one possessed with a (p. 143) devil, for such an instance of suffering came from the devil.

There follows, “And He took him aside from the multitude, and put His fingers into his ears.”

Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: He takes the deaf and dumb man who was brought to Him apart from the crowd, that He might not do His divine miracles openly; teaching us to cast away vain glory and swelling of heart, for no one can work miracles as he can, who loves humility and is lowly in his conduct. But He puts His fingers into his ears, when He might have cured him with a word, to shew that His body, being united to Deity, was consecrated by Divine virtue, with all that He did. For since on account of the transgression of Adam, human nature had incurred much suffering and hurt in its members and senses, Christ coming into the world shewed the perfection of human nature in Himself, and on this account opened ears, with His fingers, and gave the power of speech by His spittle.

Wherefore it goes on, “And spit, and touched his tongue.”

Theophylact: That He might shew that all the members of His sacred body are divine and holy, even the spittle which loosed the string of the tongue. For the spittle is only the superflous moisture of the body, but in the Lord, all things are divine.

It goes on, “And looking up to heaven, He groaned, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened.”

Bede: He looked up to heaven, that He might teach us that thence is to be procured speech for the dumb, hearing for the deaf, health for all who are sick. And He sighed, not that it was necessary for Him to be any thing from His Father with groaning, for He, together with the Father, gives all things to them who ask, but that He might give us an example of sighing, when for our own errors and those of our neighbours, we invoke the guardianship of the Divine mercy.

Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: He at the same time also groaned, as taking our cause upon Himself and pitying human nature, seeing the misery into which it had fallen.

Bede: But that which He says, “Ephphatha, that is, Be opened,” belong properly to the ears, for the ears are to be opened for hearing, but the tongue to be loosed from the bonds of its impediment, that is may be able to speak.

Wherefore it goes on, “And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.”

Where each nature of one and the same Christ (p. 144) is manifestly distinct, looking up indeed into Heaven as man, praying unto God, He groaned, but presently with one word, as being strong in the Divine Majesty, He healed.

It goes on, “And He charged them that they should tell no man.”

Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: By which He has taught us not to boast in our powers, but in the cross and humiliation. He also bade them conceal the miracle, lest He should excite the Jews by envy to kill Him before the time.

Pseudo-Jerome: A city, however, placed on a hill cannot be hid, and lowliness always comes before glory.

Wherefore it goes on, “but the more He charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it.”

Theophylact: By this we are taught, when we confer benefits on any, by no means to seek for applause and praise; but when we have received benefits, to proclaim and praise our benefactors, even though they be unwilling.

Augustine: If however He, as one Who knew the present and the future wills of men, knew that they would proclaim Him the more in proportion as He forbade them, why did He give them this command? If it were not that He wished to prove to men who are idle, how much more joyfully, with how much greater obedience, they whom He commands to proclaim Him should preach, when they who were forbidden could not hold their peace.

Gloss.: From the preaching however of those who were healed by Christ, the wonder of the multitude, and their praise of the benefits of Christ, increased.

Wherefore it goes on, “And they were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well; he maketh the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.”

Pseudo-Jerome: Mystically, Tyre is interpreted, narrowness, and signifies Judaea, to which the Lord said, “For the bed is grown too narrow,” (Is 28,20) and from which He turns Himself to the Gentiles. Sidon means, hunting, for our race is like an untamed beast, and “sea”, which means a wavering inconstancy. Again, the Saviour comes to save the Gentiles in the midst of the coasts of Decapolis, which may be interpreted, as the commands of the Decalogue.

Further, the human race throughout its many members is reckoned as one man, eaten up by varying pestilence, in the first created man; it is blinded, that is, its eye is evil; it becomes deaf, when it listens to, and dumb when it speaks, evil. And they prayed Him to lay His hand upon him, because many just men, and (p. 145) patriarchs, wished and longed for the time when the Lord should come in the flesh.

Bede: Or he is deaf and dumb, who neither has ears to hear the words of God, nor opens his mouth to speak them, and such must be presented to the Lord for healing, by men who have already learned to hear and speak the divine oracles.

 

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[1] Decapolis (from  the Greek: Δὲκα πὸλἰς, ten cities) was the name used for a territory composed of a group of ten cities located at the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire boarded by current Jordan, Syria and Israel. They did not constitute a unified political body, but at the time of the earthly life of Christ were commonly grouped under the name of Decapolis for their affinities in language, culture and policies. They were centers of Greek and Roman culture, therefore pagans.

[2] “It ‘must remember that prayer is an interior attitude, rather than a series of practices and formulas, a way of being in front of God before the acts of worship or pronounce words. Prayer has its center and has its roots in the depths of the person. “(Benedict XVI)

[3] 1. Positive, because they have had experience of what God says in Psalm 91.15: “When he calls me I will answer.”

2. Straight. Every prayer should be straight. Already St. John of Damascus taught that prayer is “a request to God for things that are good for us.”

That’s why many times a prayer is not answered because it asked things that are not good for us, as St. James says: “Ask and you shall not receive, because you ask amiss” (James 4.3). If we ask the Lord the things he has taught us to ask, our prayer will be most exact. In this regard, St. Augustine said: “If we want to pray in a way right and convenient, whatever word we use, we have to ask only what is contained in the Lord’s Prayer.”

3. Structured. Prayer must be structured, as well as the desire has to be structured. Indeed, prayer is an interpreter of desire.

Well, the right order is that in the desired as in asking we must prefer spiritual goods to materials goods and goods of heaven to things on earth. For the Lord warned us: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mt 6:33).

4. Pious. Prayer must also be pious because the abundance of devotion makes the sacrifice of prayer acceptable to God, as the psalmist says: “In your name I will lift up my hands; I will satisfy me as with a banquet, and with joy my mouth shall praise you “(Ps 63.5 to 6). Devotion, then, arises from the love, namely the love of God and neighbor.

5. Humble. Prayer must be humble because God “will regard the prayer of the humble and not despise their prayer” (Psalm 102.18). See also the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18:10 14) and the prayer of Judith: “You are the God of the poor, are the helper of the helpless” (Judith 9:11).

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