I don’t know if I’ve shared this before, but one penance which I frequently give out during the sacrament of Reconciliation is a verse from the letter of St. James: “…everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, for the wrath of a [person} does not accomplish the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20). In light of the contentious hearings about the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, as well as other conflicts in the U.S., this came to my mind as I reflected on our Gospel reading.
In our Gospel reading from Mark, people bring to Jesus a man who is deaf and has a speech impediment. Jesus takes the man aside, puts His finger into the man’s ears and puts His spittle on the man’s tongue, and looking up to heaven, groans and says “Ephphatha! Be opened!” and the man is cured. You’ll notice that Jesus touches the ears first. The people who witness this say, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
From the Church abuse scandal to the political divisions in the U.S. and throughout the world, to personal relationships that are troubled, there could be many who would cry out, “Lord, make the deaf hear!” I’m not sure that there would be a corresponding cry to make the mute speak. There seems to be enough talking heads in all kinds of media today. But perhaps there is one thing that is needed in our speech. And that is that what we say would actually be in response to what we hear, instead of being a preemptive strike.
In Mark’s Gospel, we have many instances where the power of Jesus to heal is demonstrated. Perhaps the challenge for us is to look at our listening and speaking as opportunities for healing. I know that a listening ear can be as healing as anything else I may be able to do for someone in pain or in need. And if I actively listen, what I say or do in response to the person could also contribute to healing and reconciliation.
But I also know as I write this that that there are many people, all along the political as well as theological spectrum, who would say that this is not a time for reconciliation. The battle is on, and one side or the other must win out. The stakes are too high to take the time to listen and understand the other side.
Personally, I have a tough time with going into “battle” this way. I feel I am called to help bring people together. And so I look to Jesus. It is true that He chastised the Pharisees and the scribes and elders for their hypocrisy. It is true that He drove the money changers out of the Temple. But when He was arrested, He told Peter to put his sword back in its sheath, and He forgave the people who conspired and succeeded in putting Him to death.
As we stand up for life and justice, we are to do so with love, as Jesus did. As it says in our second reading from the letter of James, we are to “show no partiality.” May we not only speak the truth, but listen to the truth, perhaps especially from perspectives that are not our own.
May the healing power of Jesus be in our listening and our speaking.
Fr. Phil, CP