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Gospel for Sunday, September 5: Mark 7: 31-37

XXIII Sunday B

31Returning from the region of Tyre, he passed through Sidon, heading towards the Sea of Galilee in the full territory of the Decapolis. 32And they brought him a deaf and dumb man, begging him to lay his hand on him. 33And taking him aside away from the crowd, he put his fingers in his ears and touched his tongue with the saliva; 34then looking towards the sky, he let out a sigh and said: “Effata” that is: “Open up!”. 35And immediately his ears were opened, the knot of his tongue was untied, and he spoke correctly. 36And he commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he recommended it, the more they talked about it 37and, full of amazement, they said: «He did everything well; he makes the deaf hear and the mute speak!

Mark 7: 31-37

Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Misericordie, I am Carlo Miglietta, doctor, biblical scholar, layman, husband, father and grandfather (www.buonabibbiaatutti.it).

Also today I share with you a short meditation thought on the Gospel, with special reference to the theme of mercy.

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Before entering deeply into the mystery of Bread, Jesus heals a deaf and dumb man.

Jesus sighs, looking towards heaven (v. 34). This sigh is the expression of God’s suffering, but it is also the emission of the Holy Spirit: “he Emitted the Spirit”, he will say on the Cross; here he commands “Effatà”, that is: “Open”: it is Marco who translates us into Italian.

At the end of the first part (6.6-7.37) of the bread section (6.6-8.26) there is this symbolic miracle (7.31-37). A deaf and stammering man is healed, just as at the end of the second part (8.1-26) of the section a blind man will be healed (8.22-26). This deaf and stutterer is the Church, we are the ones who have not been able to welcome the mystery of the bread, who have not been able to listen to the Word and therefore are unable to announce it, and we stammer it: we do not know what the True Bread is . We, the Church, are the deaf-mute who needs to be healed: God’s intervention is necessary for our heart of stone to become a heart of flesh. Baptism, where conversion is healing, is necessary to understand the Eucharist. Pliny the Elder documents the wide therapeutic and exorcistic use of saliva in the Greco-Roman world. It was also believed that saliva contained the spirit: being touched with one’s own saliva therefore meant transmitting one’s life force. Here the saliva recalls the Baptismal rite, in which there is the rite of the “Effatà”, of the “Open”.

The first ones to whom Jesus opens his ears and loosens his mouth are the pagans, they are the distant ones, they are those apart from the world, but they become a symbol for us. We too need our ears to be opened to listen, only then will we be able to announce the Gospel correctly.

“The knot of his tongue was untied, and he spoke correctly”: it is indispensable to listen to the Word, it is indispensable to read the Scripture, it is indispensable to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, which enables us to listen before announcing.

Some reflections arise from these passages from the Gospel of Mark.

Each of us learns to recognize the mystery of Bread in order to welcome the Lord. Each of us looks at his heart to see if it is an individualistic heart, if it is a heart attached to traditions, or if it is a heart capable of goodness, of emotion, of love, of sharing (Mk 7,1-23).

Each of us takes his five loaves and two fish, and gives them to the brothers, and shares them joyfully with them. Each of us loves. And each of us, when he has loved, will then be able to recognize the Lord and will be able to recognize that the good of our life is the Bread that feeds us (Mk 6,34-44).

And if we recognize ourselves as incapable of having a heart of flesh then let us humbly approach the Lord as the deaf-mute does here (and this is the meaning of Confession, the sacrament of Penance), and ask that he fill us with his Spirit, and open our ears, repeating this miraculous “Ephphatha” over us, so that we become capable of understanding the Word, and therefore of announcing it with joy to all people (Mk 7,31-37).

Solomon is pleasing to God because instead of asking him for power and wealth he asks him: “Give your servant a docile heart (lev shomèa)” (1 Kings 3.9). Our Bibles generally translate “docile,” or “intelligent”; but literally the king’s prayer is to have “a heart capable of listening”, “a heart that listens” (shomèa is a present participle that indicates the continuity of an action).

This is the best prayer: because “listening is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam 15,22). The term disciple (limmud) is a passive form of the verb to learn, to teach (lamad): the disciple is the one who has the Word sealed in his heart: “Let this revelation be sealed in the hearts of my disciples” (Is 8:16).

The true disciple is he who allows himself to be “opened his ear” by God. Many times our translations speak of “opening his ear”, in the sense of paying attention to the speaker; but in reality in the biblical text the reference is much deeper and more demanding. Piercing the ear was the public gesture with which a Jew accepted to be the slave of another forever, renouncing the right to be freed after seven years (Ex 21.6). It was the solemn promise to serve another forever, even by giving up one’s own freedom. The biblical texts that therefore speak of “opening your ear” are not just an invitation to listen, but express the commitment to forever become faithful servants of the Lord, who give their lives to him, and therefore must be understood in this sense (Is 50.4-5; Ps 40.7-9). Therefore not just listening, but obedience, faithfulness, persevering service.

Many times Jesus made the deaf hear (Mk 7.37; 9.25): and a sign of the advent of the Messiah is precisely that “the deaf hear” (Lk 7.22). May the Lord open our hearts to listening to the Word. And in this world confused by so many empty and often evil words, the prophecy of the prophet Amos will soon come true: “Behold, the days are coming – says the Lord God – in which I will send famine in the land, not hunger for bread, nor thirst for water, but to listen to the Word of the Lord” (Am 8,11).

Happy Mercy to all!

Anyone who would like to read a more complete exegesis of the text, or some insights, please ask me at migliettacarlo@gmail.com.

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