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Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

 A famous Indian Jesuit named Anthony de Mello used to tell the story about “disciples gathered around their master, asking him endless questions about God. And the master would respond by insisting that anything we say about God is just words, because God is unknowable. One time, however, a disciple asked, ‘Then why do you speak of him at all?’ And the master replied, ‘Why does the bird sing? She sings not because she has a statement, but because she has a song.’”

The problem for many of us is we’ve become incapable of hearing that song.

Like the deaf man with the speech impediment in today’s gospel, you and I often find ourselves in a place where we have intentionally blocked out the “song” that Isaiah sings so beautifully in today’s first reading:

“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.”

Or, maybe you and I have become so assaulted by the background noise created by the world’s widespread and endless hostilities, the deafening cries coming from people suffering horrible abuses, the moans and groans of so many living in pain and heartaches of one kind or another … maybe we’ve simply learned how to stop listening, how to block it all out.  

Almost everywhere you look anymore, you see people walking around with headphones in their ears, drowning out the rest of the world. More and more these days, the sounds we hear are only those we intentionally select.

The consequence on a spiritual level may be that we can no longer hear the voice of Jesus quietly whispering in our ears. We can’t hear any instructions, any guidance, any wisdom, any encouragement that we may need. And when we can’t hear God speaking to us, we ourselves cannot speak of God.

What may be happening is that we’re drowning out the commands of Jesus disarming the powers of evil, like in today’s gospel. We’re tuning out the stirrings of the reign of God coming into the world, as all three of today’s readings passionately describe.

We may even have arrived at a place of deafness where we can no longer hear the lively testimony of others who have seen God at work in astounding ways. 

Like the man in today’s gospel, we need Jesus to pull each of us aside, stick his finger in our ears, spit, touch our tongues, look up to heaven and sigh, speak in some ancient language – whatever it takes to open the passageway and remove the blockage so that we who have grown deaf can hear again.

Then we need to give Jesus permission to shout as loud as he can:

“Be opened!” – just as he did with the man in today’s gospel.

“Be opened” so that we can hear about the new way of living together in which St. Paul encourages us to “show no partiality.”

“Be opened” so that we can hear again what things are possible for those who believe – things like compassion and reconciliation and solidarity and reckless generosity.

To paraphrase an old Shaker hymn, “When Jesus opens our ears, we will hear the clear, though far-off song that hails a new creation …. How can I keep from singing?”

How can I?

I can keep from singing if I don’t hear … if I don’t listen … if I shut out the many sounds of Jesus’ message of release, renewal, and new life.

The shout that Jesus gave to the deaf man is one we need to ask for in our own life of prayer: “Be opened!”

Then we will hear again that song that has resonated through the ages – the song of Isaiah the prophet, the song of St. Paul, the song of the Good News of great joy embodied in Jesus himself – the song of freedom and peace and justice for all of God’s creation.

“Be opened!”

Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.

Art by Jim Matarelli 

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