July 31, 2014

Making the deaf hear and the dumb speak

Photo credit: stmaryswestmelbourne.org

I was looking by chance at a program on the Discovery Channel some time ago, dealing with Swaziland, a small landlocked society in southern Africa. Swaziland is a society, the narrator said, that’s totally organized around hierarchy and deference. Everybody defers to somebody above them. At the top is the king, and the result is a permanent and compliant acceptance of the status quo.

The TV presentation I heard that night recurred to me as I prepared to say something on today’s gospel. How so? In this way — When Jesus healed the deaf and the dumb, he literally healed people who couldn’t hear and couldn’t speak; just as when he healed the blind, he healed those who literally couldn’t see. But the healing can be taken in another sense, metaphorical but no less real. We are capacitated to see and to speak, and that also includes seeing and speaking for ourselves, and taking responsibility for our situations.

These possibilities are not gifts, conceded to us by anyone. They are part of our birthright (natural and baptismal) as human beings and Christians.

One may say that citizens who have their eyes open and speak for themselves is the essence of a democratic system. On the other hand, many people prefer not to see sometimes what’s there, or what’s plain for everyone to see; and they refrain from speaking from a variety of reasons, including deference. They don’t want to be regarded as trouble makers, or, more simply, they don’t want to seem out of step before people who know them.

One finds the same situation in religion, and yet Christianity originated with a very special kind of trouble maker. Let’s take a recognizable example of ‘trouble-making,’ common to us in the Church. Sometimes people come to me to complain about some procedure in some parish or some priest for that matter, and I tell them: I am the wrong person to complain to. Go to the priest in question, and speak directly to him. Speak for yourself; or go to the Archbishop; he can do what I cannot. But they do neither, and you see what’s going on. They want the benefit of complaining but not the responsibility of speaking.

The history of social benefit or social development includes contributions by individuals who saw things that other people preferred not to see, and spoke not only for themselves but for others. When things change for the better, we call such persons prophets. We give them a special designation, but they are often no different from people like us; they just have more courage.

Democracy means the possibility of dissent. You don’t have to agree with everything any government or indeed anybody says or does, and you shouldn’t be afraid to say so. History shows examples of societies where people didn’t speak, or were afraid to speak, until every other right apart from freedom of speech was taken away from them. These things always work cumulatively. Things are taken away one thing at a time; people are afraid to speak one occasion at a time.

Jesus was not afraid to say things as he saw them. Recall the altercation between himself and the High Priest just before the crucifixion. Jesus is just responding to the questions posed by the High Priest; but a guard finds him too forward, and strikes him. Jesus replies: “If there is something wrong I what I said, point it out; but if there is no offense in it, why do you strike me?”

Here we have Jesus himself providing a good example of not being deaf and dumb, when it was perhaps in his interest to play deaf and dumb. He doesn’t fight anybody. He simply speaks and says his piece. That ability was the miracle he accomplished for the man in today’s reading. He opened his mouth. It was left to the man – as it remains left to us – to choose how, when and whether or not to speak.

By: Fr. Henry Charles PhD

Comments

  1. Patsy says:

    Excellent contribution. It gives a lot of food for thought. I for one am definitely thinking. Thank you.

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