“He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak” (Mark 7:37).
A missionary in Nigeria once described two homes run for handicapped children, one for the blind and one for the deaf. He asked, if I had a choice would I be blind or deaf? Curiously, he said that from his experience of these two centers, the blind children were much more lively and animated than the deaf children, who seemed to be more isolated.
It would be a terrible choice to have to make, knowing how important each sense is to our ability to navigate life. Being deprived of sight, color, the ability to see people’s faces, the whole visible world around me, would be a real loss. At the same time, living in a silent world would also deprive me of the unique sound of voices, of music, all the nuance and acoustical shape of the world around me, the ability to locate things in the distance and to identify the emotions and subtleties of communication that only sound can fully convey.
In today’s Gospel story, Jesus first heals the deafness in the man, which has deprived him of speech. When the man can hear, he can speak properly because finally he can hear the sounds words make. He gains two abilities at once. Hearing is emphasized in the scriptures with the recognition that it opens up many doors. Creation occurs when God speaks and reality appears in response to this creative act. Human beings are called into existence by the voice of God.
The Sh’ma, the central prayer of Judaism said often during each day begins with the call to listen. "Hear, O Israel." We first listen to God’s Word, because it forms us, makes us who we are. If we first listen, then we can also speak, express ourselves within the conversation initiated by God.
The disciple is one who learns by listening. The words of his or her teacher enter the heart and invoke a personal response, entry into a process of reflection and interpretation, choices and commitments. Something within the self takes shape because of conversation, both internal and in groups. It is from this inner listening that we take the message we share with others.
The miracle Jesus performs reminds us of God creating Adam with moisture and mud, breathing life into the figure shaped by God’s sharing of the divine image. The suggestion that this miracle was real “work” for Jesus also reminds us of the act of creation. God is the potter, we are the clay. We are called into existence, shaped, named, loved and assigned a purpose by God’s initiation. We are the work of the divine hands. Something silent and closed is opened up. We are called to life.
We rejoice that God has invited us to share this gift of listening. What we hear is what we can then share with others. This is the joy of the Gospel.