Jesus’ initial ministry in Galilee, starting with his miracles in Capernaum, brought excited crowds to him looking for healing for themselves or those with them. Wherever he went, whether in Jewish or Gentile territory, crowds came to him.
In today’s gospel, the deaf man brought to him isn’t identified as either Jew or gentile. He’s just deaf and can’t speak. He has no name. What’s significant about this miracle is the way Jesus heals him. “He took him off by himself away from the crowd.” (Mark 7,33)
Jesus takes the man aside privately, he meets him personally, face to face– and is deeply touched– “groans”–at the deaf man’s plight. He touches the man, putting his finger in his ears and his spittle on his tongue. When the deaf man speaks, Jesus says to him and his friends not to tell anyone. One reason may be that Jesus doesn’t want to be typed simply as a healer. But they went and proclaimed it anyway.
Still, why did he take him off “by himself away from the crowd?” A reminder that God does not look on us as a crowd, but knows each of us? We’re not statistics, part of a list. God meets each of us face to face.
And that’s a reminder to treat others that way too. Each has a face of their own and a story that’s unique. That’s hard to do. It’s easier to deal with people as statistics, numbers, people next in line.
For Jesus people were not statistics, one of a crowd, next in line. That’s not God’s way.
When you’re reading the gospels it’s good to notice where Jesus travels, because it usually offers an insight into what he does. Mark’s Gospel today (Mark 7,31-37) says Jesus leaves the district of Tyre “and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee into the district of the Decapolis.” The cities of the Decapolis, east of the Sea of Galilee, were not Jewish areas; they were where pagans lived. That means that the deaf man Jesus cures is most likely a pagan, not a Jew. In a simple way, through these place names, Mark’s Gospel indicates that Jesus brings life to others, besides the Jews; he comes for all people.
Our story also sees an interesting connection between hearing and speech. The deaf man not only can’t hear, he can’t speak either. His deafness affects his understanding; it impedes his connection with the world and reality around him; he can’t say what he has to say.
The miracles of Jesus are about more than physical cures, of course. The deaf man who can’t hear or speak points to the spiritual deafness that can affect the way we hear God and consequently impedes our ability to speak God’s truth.
Pope Francis will be visiting us in a few weeks. He’ll be visiting three different places. In Washington he will be addressing our government, in Philadelphia he will be speaking about family life, in New York he will be speaking to the whole human family at the United Nations. He has important things to say and we should listen to him.
I think we already know some of the things he’s going to say. His recent encyclical “Laudato Si” was about the care of creation. It wont be a surprise if he speaks about that in all those places. But if recent surveys are right, it seems that American Catholics aren’t hearing the message of that encyclical very well. We don’t seem to hear what’s being said, it’s not entering into our ordinary discourse. Certainly we don’t hear too much about it in our present political discourse.
There’s an ecological crisis, the pope said in his letter. It’s a major issue endangering the whole world, all of its creatures, our human family. It’s especially affecting the poor. We have to do something about it.
Some may deny the crisis exists; some may claim it’s exaggerated; some may just throw up their hands thinking it’s too big to deal with. Some may think it can taken care of gradually by the play of “market forces.”
The pope and many others see the ecological crisis as real, it’s endangering the world and it has to be dealt with now. Recently, Francis asked Catholics and people everywhere to come together on September 1st for a day of prayer about the care of creation. We need an “ecological conversion,” he said. An “ecological conversion.” I must confess I don’t understand all he means by that, but my instincts say he’s right. I need to “hear” what that means– an “ecological conversion.”
I don’t think ecological conversion means that we have to immerse ourselves completely in science, although the pope obviously respects scientific conclusions. We should too. I don’t think ecological conversion means that a few quick moves will fix the crisis, like changing a couple of light bulbs in the house–although again, suggestions like that are important. The pope says that as Catholics we need to “rediscover in our own rich spiritual patrimony the deepest motivations for our concern for the care of creation.”
Pope Francis does that in his encyclical. He sees what the scriptures say about creation, from the Book of Genesis to the writings of the New Testament. He sees the respect we have for creation in our sacraments. The water we use in baptism, the bread and wine we take in our Eucharist, the oil we use for anointing the sick. Our spiritual patrimony has a reverence for creation. In the pope’s words, our spiritual tradition reminds us that we’re called “to be protectors of God’s handiwork.” That call “is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience” (Laudato Si, 217). We must love God and our neighbor and creation itself.
Caring for creation and an “ecological conversion” are not going to be easy. It means great changes in the way we look at life and live life. We can’t understand all it means. We have trouble hearing and speaking about it, like the deaf man in the gospel. That’s why we need the grace of God. We need to pray for it. And while we’re at it, let’s pray for the pope.