In our first reading today, we are given an explicit prophesy from the Book of Isaiah about the long-expected Messiah. We are told that one of the signs by which we will be able to recognise the true Messiah is that he will be able to make the deaf hear and the dumb speak.
In the Gospel text we see how Christ enables the deaf man to hear and loosens his tongue to enable him to speak fluently. The observers immediately recognise that what Jesus has done is nothing less than a fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy and so they exclaim: ‘He has done all things well, he makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.’
We don’t know who this group of observers actually were, they are simply referred to as ‘they’. The text says, ‘“they” brought him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech.’ Clearly these people were not scribes or Pharisees; this group of people was broadly sympathetic to Jesus and they clearly wanted healing for their friend. But they are certainly not a group of ignorant peasants, they are quite obviously educated people because they can quote directly from the Prophet Isaiah and have sufficient insight to see in Jesus the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy.
We also observe that the man was not completely dumb. The text says that he had an impediment in his speech, but surely this must have been a serious enough impediment to render him practically unintelligible. Maybe he could make some of what he uttered understandable but perhaps not very much. So, to all intents and purposes the man was effectively dumb.
We know that there is an obvious connection between deafness and dumbness; if a person cannot hear then they don’t know how they sound which makes it difficult for them to pronounce words correctly. This is why some profoundly deaf people speak rather strangely.
If you have attended a Baptism recently then you will perhaps have noticed an explicit reference to this very miracle in the Baptism ceremony. After the actual pouring of water takes place the priest makes the sign of the Cross on the ears and lips of the child and says the words, ‘The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his Word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.’
The quotation from Isaiah also has some words which could be seen as a connection with Baptism. He says, ‘For water gushes in the desert, streams in the wasteland, the scorched earth becomes a lake, the parched land springs of water.’ You might not think that this is a very explicit reference to Baptism but the words about flowing water make it an interesting link nonetheless.
Of course, hearing the Word of God and proclaiming it is precisely what the Sacrament of Baptism is all about. No one gets Baptised in order to remain in ignorance or to stay silent in relation to the Gospel. The act of Baptism expresses a desire for faith, even if in the case of an infant it is the desire of the parents on behalf of their child.
We get Baptised because we have heard the Word of God and we want to hear more of it. We want to believe in it wholeheartedly and we want to proclaim it to the world so that all may hear and understand it. We can see then how these two important senses of hearing and speaking have a deep connection with the Sacrament of Baptism and are vital to the growth and development of the Christian faith in the world.
So perhaps we need to think about how well each one of us hears and speaks. Do we truly hear the Word of God and do we truly proclaim Christ’s Gospel of love to those around us?
When we speak about hearing the Word of God of course we mean listening to it. We physically hear the Gospel read to us in Church but we use this expression ‘hearing the Word’ in a much broader sense.
We also understand it to mean reading. We read the Gospel. We take the Bible down from our shelf and sit down to read it. On those occasions we perhaps get more out of it than when we passively listen to someone else reading it in Church. When we read the Gospel text by ourselves we can go over a sentence several times and think what it means. We have the leisure to compare and contrast different passages, we are able to ponder the meaning and to realise that there is sometimes what we can call a subtext.
When we read the Gospel in the privacy of our homes we can take the time to savour the words and to meditate on the significance of what Christ has to say to us. The word ‘savour’ is a good one, it implies that we linger on the text and allow the meaning of the words and phrases to unfold. The former rector of my seminary used to say ‘that we should savour the Word of God like a lozenge on the tongue.’ He implied that we should turn the words of Jesus over and over in our minds until we had extracted the full breadth and depth of meaning that they contain.
Maybe we don’t have a Bible in our home. If not, then this is something that should be rectified straight away. Every Catholic home should have a Bible, a Crucifix and a picture of Mary. And the Bible should not remain covered with dust sitting on a shelf, it needs to be referred to, it needs to be studied, it needs to be meditated upon.
I remember hearing a story about a young man going to university. He said to his dad that the fathers of some of his friends had promised them a car if they passed their final exams. His father agreed but gave him a Bible and said that he had one more condition because he wanted his son to read a passage from the Bible every day. If he did this, he said, then he would give him the car. After three years the boy returned having obtained his degree and asked his dad about the car. In return the father asked for the Bible. When his son got the obviously unused Bible out of his trunk the father opened it and out fell a cheque for the price of a car.
I have spoken about hearing the Word of God but, of course, that is only half of the story. The other half is proclaiming the Word to those around us. This may well involve speech. It will surely mean explaining the scriptures to those around us and unfolding God’s plan of salvation to them. But it will involve other things too such as proclaiming the Word by means of example. It will mean performing acts of love and kindness. It will mean acquiring attitudes consonant with the Gospel.
By doing these things then those words spoken about Jesus may well end up being spoken about us, ‘Behold, he has done all things well.’