Being able to praise God is a sign that one is restored to wholeness.
Indeed, that was what happened when Jesus healed the deaf and dumb man. The on-lookers, and presumably the healed man as well, could not contain their joy and admiration for Jesus. Hence, they publicly gave testimony to the wonderful works of Jesus. Praise and gratitude therefore is an indication of one’s encounter with God and His goodness. That is why when we come across people who are happy and liberated, we know that they have been touched by the love and goodness of God. Conversely, if we come across people who are pessimistic and negative towards life, it is because they are unable to receive the Good News from God.
Like the deaf and dumb man, they are unable to speak or proclaim God’s mighty works since they have not heard the Good News. They are truly sick at heart and in the mind.
But why were they unable to hear? This impediment to hearing is not simply a physical impediment but an impediment of the heart, a heart that is hurt, broken and hardened. As a result, they could not see nor feel goodness in their lives as they were no longer open to the wonders of God around them. This was the case with King Solomon and the son of Solomon, Rehoboam. Solomon, we were told in yesterday’s reading, could no longer listen to the voice of God as he was led astray by his foreign wives to worship false gods. His son, Rehoboam too, was unable to hear his people’s cries to the forced labour and exorbitant taxes imposed on the northern tribes of Israel. Instead of attending to their needs, he increased the taxes all the more. Such insensitivity necessarily resulted in a rebellion led by his former military leader, Jeroboam, which eventually split the kingdom of David into two.
How, then, can we reach out to those who are unable to hear the good news? If the direct proclamation of the Word is not possible, then we must find other ways of reaching out to those who are physically or psychologically impeded from hearing. We must help them to remove those obstacles, be they spiritual, emotional or psychological. We can proclaim the Word of God by our actions instead. As is often said, a picture is worth a thousand words. Actions certainly speak louder than words. Hence in today’s scripture readings, we find the use of prophetic actions to proclaim the message of God. In the first reading, Ahijah the prophet conveyed the message of God to Jeroboam through the prophetic ot by taking the new cloak he was wearing and tearing it into twelve pieces and giving ten strips to Jeroboam, signifying that the latter would be given ten tribes from the kingdom of Solomon. In the same way too, Jesus also healed the deaf and dumb man using some physical action, like putting His fingers into the man’s ears and touching his tongue with His spittle. If Jesus had chosen such a complicated way to heal the man, it was not because Jesus needed to, but because Jesus knew that the deaf and dumb man needed that assurance since he could not hear. The physical contact enabled the deaf and dumb man to be open to Jesus.
What, then, are the implications for us in our ministry? Firstly, if we are to proclaim the Good News, we must proclaim it in such a way that the listeners can hear the message. We must make use of all possible means to reach out to others in ways that they can understand and identify with us. If they cannot hear the message we are proclaiming, we need to make use of whatever resources that are available to us. For this to be possible, we must first come to them on their own terms and not ours. Indeed, God reaches out to us as we are, just as Jesus reached out to the deaf and dumb man in his limited condition. That is why He had to employ physical actions to heal him so that if the man could not hear, at least he could feel.
Secondly, this healing miracle illustrates the importance of signs, sacraments and sacramentals. Sacramentalism cannot be ignored in our communication of the Good News. This explains why the Catholic Church places great emphasis on the liturgy and the use of sacramentals in the liturgy so that the Good News is not only heard but felt in the heart as well. For this reason, the Church reintroduced the rites of scrutiny and the praying over in order to gradually prepare Catechumens for the sacrament of baptism. We must never under-estimate the power of signs and symbols employed in the liturgy. Of course, the use of signs must be extended to our daily life as well. It is through signs of love, welcome and good works that people can feel the Good News in person in concrete terms in their own lives.
Thirdly, in reaching out to our listeners, we must respect their dignity and pride. Here again, Jesus was sensitive to the deaf and dumb man and thus He took him aside, away from the peering eyes of the crowd. He did so presumably because He did not want to embarrass the man in case he found it too unnerving to utter the first few words, which would probably sound distorted. We too must be sensitive to the needs of our audience when bringing the Good News to others. For example, in reconciliation, we need not have to hear the words, “I forgive” or “I’m sorry” before forgiveness is effected. Some of us might be too proud to ask for forgiveness or even to utter the words of forgiveness. But very often, the signs of forgiveness or asking for forgiveness are already there and we just need to notice them. Another example is helping people financially or in kind. Even in giving we must respect the pride of the other person and not embarrass the recipient, making him feel small by receiving our gifts.
Yes, the gospel tells us that Jesus had done all things well. He made “the deaf hear and the dumb speak.” We too, if we truly want to do all things well and be effective in our ministry, then we must be sensitive and creative like Jesus to our potential listeners. We must reach out to them on their own terms, with great sensitivity manifested in concrete action. Only then will they be able to praise Him unceasingly for His great love and works for them with their lips.