They were exceedingly astonished and they said, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” Words from our Gospel today from the 7th chapter of the Gospel according to St. Mark – sisters and brothers, may the Lord give to you his peace and his joy.
When I was younger, I used to have a radio alarm that would wake me up in the mornings before going to school, and at the top and bottom of every hour, the voice of Steve Cichon with the WBEN news room would come over the radio and would give us a news flash about the events going on in our world. It happened that I met Steve Cichon years later when I was a seminarian assigned to serve at St. Mark Church in Buffalo. Steve was a parishioner there, and when we met, he told me that he was actually leaving his reporting job because he felt there wasn’t much depth to his broadcasting. There’s a saying: never accept a label in place of a story. That’s what Steve felt he like was doing. He explained to me that he desired to be a storyteller and share people’s stories, but he ended up ignoring their story and labelling them in a brief 30 second news ticker medium. So today, he is something of an independent journalist doing comprehensive write-ups for various organizations and groups in the city of Buffalo.
I’m reminded of my conversation with Steve, because our Gospel today resembles something of a news flash: “there was quite a commotion in the Decapolis today as the wonderworker Jesus performed yet another miracle, healing a deaf man and restoring his ability to speak. In other news, a girl who rode her bicycle across phone wires in East Amherst was arrested for eavesdropping.” When we are presented with little snippets of information, we can’t see the whole picture and we unfortunately miss the larger narrative. So, allow me fill in some of the background for our Gospel narrative today. The story that we heard is now the second time in his journey that Jesus has come to this region of the Decapolis on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. The first time he was there, Jesus did not go into the city; instead he remained in the countryside, meeting there a man who lived in the village cemetery who was possessed by many demons. Jesus then cast out this “Legion” of demons, sending them into a herd of pigs nearby that in turn rushed out of the town into the sea and were drown. This first story has an even more unusual ending. As people heard snippets about these demons that ran off with their bacon, literally, they became afraid of Jesus and asked him to leave their town, and so he left. Here, Jesus just saved somebody’s life and in return they begged him to leave, and so he did. Meanwhile, the once-possessed man who used to live in the cemetery went off and became a storyteller, revealing all that Jesus had done for him throughout the whole region of the Decapolis. All of this can be found in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 5.
Fast forward to Mark, chapter 7, which was our Gospel from today. Now Jesus returns to the Decapolis, and upon entering the city, these same people who refused to associate with Jesus rushed out to meet him, bringing with them a deaf man for Jesus to cure. I think it’s important to recognize the behind the scenes actions of the man from the tombs, and how telling his story changed the hearts of the people living there. Once they begged Jesus to leave, now they begged him to stay and cure this deaf man. Once suspicious, now they are hopeful. Once full of fear, now they are filled with wonder and amazement. The man from the tombs is our unsung hero making acceptance of Jesus Christ possible amidst the daily troubles of life by telling his story. Initially, Jesus didn’t want people talking about him because he figured he would be misunderstood through the hearsay. But the people were no longer content to leave it at mere rumor and idle talk, they wanted to know more. As they recounted the story again and again, the whole community felt enriched and said in wonder, “He has done all things well.” Perhaps, the deaf man that was brought forward in our Gospel story today was symbolic of all the people of the Decapolis, who maybe could physically hear, but were deaf to the larger stories that were being told. When they were open to listening to what Jesus had to say and what he could do, and when they learned the story of the man who was possessed by Legion, it was their lives that were changed and transformed… I’d like to suggest that they were the ones who were healed. Unlike the last time Jesus visited them, the whole town came out to share in the story of Jesus’ saving power and rejoice with the man who was cured.
In our day and age, we hear lots of news, there’s lots of hearsay around us. Could you tell your whole story in less than 350 words for a newspaper article; how about in 140 characters or less through Twitter? Do the seemingly glamorous photos posted on Facebook tell the whole story or is there something else to our lives? How do our text messages compare to an in-person conversation? Do we make judgments and presumptions and accept labels in place of stories? Do these snap shots about individuals, the Church, our community, or our world really tell the whole story? Is there depth to what we are taking in or is there more, like Steve Cichon seemed to perceive? Isn’t it interesting that this summer Tiktok increased its video time from 1 minute to 3 minutes to allow for “even richer storytelling and entertainment?” Many of us often feel misunderstood, and perhaps, our Gospel today gives us pause to think about how we are communicating our stories with one another… Beyond our physical hearing, if we would open our ears to listen, like the people of the Decapolis, and give each other permission to speak, we would discover how our stories reveal who we are at a deeper level, and allow us to truly connect with one another. And in the sharing of our stories, we would come to realize too that all of our stories, collectively, are all a part of the one true story: the story of our salvation and how God has loved each of us from the beginning even until now, sending his Son to heal us and invite us to play our part in the narrative to share God’s grace.
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Thus says the LORD:
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.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.
Streams will burst forth in the desert,
and rivers in the steppe.
The burning sands will become pools,
and the thirsty ground, springs of water.
- (1b) Praise the Lord, my soul!
The God of Jacob keeps faith forever,
secures justice for the oppressed,
gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets captives free.
R. Praise the Lord, my soul!
The LORD gives sight to the blind;
the LORD raises up those who were bowed down.
The LORD loves the just;
the LORD protects strangers.
R. Praise the Lord, my soul!
The fatherless and the widow the LORD sustains,
but the way of the wicked he thwarts.
The LORD shall reign forever;
your God, O Zion, through all generations. Alleluia.
R. Praise the Lord, my soul!
My brothers and sisters, show no partiality
as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.
For if a man with gold rings and fine clothes
comes into your assembly,
and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in,
and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes
and say, “Sit here, please, ”
while you say to the poor one, “Stand there, ” or “Sit at my feet, ”
have you not made distinctions among yourselves
and become judges with evil designs?
Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters.
Did not God choose those who are poor in the world
to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom
that he promised to those who love him?
- Alleluia, alleluia.
Jesus proclaimed the Gospel of the kingdom
and cured every disease among the people.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
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.”