Let the Scriptures Speak
The Mute Will Sing
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 [MOGILALOS] will sing.
When the words quoted above were first spoken by Isaiah of Jerusalem, the immediate reference was the hoped-for return and restoration of Israel after the Babylonian Exile. By the time of Jesus, those words were understood as pointing to the further restoration of Israel in the messianic age. Indeed, when the messengers from the jailed Baptist ask Jesus if he is the "one who is to come," Jesus' indirect answer takes the form of an allusion to this passage of Isaiah: "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear" (Luke 7:22). They ask who he is; he responds by telling what time it is. Implication: if the end- time healings are happening, maybe the end-time agent, the Messiah, is indeed present among them.
This passage from Isaiah 35, then, is the perfect First Reading to prepare us to understand Mark's account of Jesus healing the deaf-mute of Decapolis. Mark's choice of a rare word to describe the man's speech impediment, “mogilalos” (“mute, incapable of speech”), demonstrates that he wants us to remember Isaiah 35 when we read his account of this healing. That word appears only twice in the whole Bible: in the passage from Isaiah quoted above (Isa 35:6, Greek version) and in this account of Mark.
This narrative is a parade example of the way all the evangelists view the accounts of Jesus’ healing, that is, from two perspectives: (1) they describe Jesus’ healing the physically disabled, and (2) they also symbolize the power of the risen Lord to heal from spiritual blindness, lameness, deafness, and muteness. Mark's context helps us understand both of these dimensions. The cue to look for the symbolic dimension in this Sunday's Gospel (healing from spiritual deafness and muteness) comes in the next chapter, at Mk 8:17-18, where Jesus asks his disciples, “Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?” This is followed immediately by the healing of blind Bartimaeus.
Persons who are born deaf rarely learn to speak, and then only with great difficulty. It is not hard to catch Mark's application of this experience to the life of faith. The summons to the life of faith usually comes through a word that is heard. Proper hearing of that word requires healing from spiritual deafness, being freed up to receive the message fully and deeply. That reception, in turn, enables us to communicate to others what we have heard. It is difficult to speak unless we hear.
The reading from James (Second Reading) focuses not so much on the hearing of faith as on faithful seeing. James warns against prosopolempsia (root sense: “face-reception,” i.e., taking people according to their prosopon, “face”). The example James gives is that of giving a well-dressed visitor special treatment while neglecting a poorly dressed person, forgetting the beatitude about the poor. That, he implies, is a symptom of spiritual blindness.
There is probably no time in our life when we should not ask for the healing of the blindness of our hearts. It is likely, too, that any time is a good one to ask the risen Lord to bless us with the prayer, “Ephphatha” (“Be opened!”). The better we can hear the Gospel, the better we can speak it.
Dennis Hamm, SJ
**From Saint Louis University