It is quite unfortunate that not even the Church has done enough, and the Nigerian society too has done little or nothing at all to care for people with special needs such as the lame, the blind, the deaf and dumb. This seems less important to the government of the day to construct special pathways for the blind or make provisions for special vehicles for the lame. What about education for and communication with the blind, deaf and dumb? Very few institutes or organizations have interest in sign language. Is it the case that these our brothers and sisters with special needs have no need of the Gospel and education? Today’s liturgy draws our attention to the interest of God in these people. The Prophet Isaiah in the first reading uses the image of a deaf person to show us what God will do for his people who have shut their ears and no longer listen to Him. This pericope belongs to the small apocalypse of Isaiah. That is, the revelation of Isaiah about what was to happen.
The reading portrays a Messianic Climate/tone; the liberation of the oppressed people in the society. Amazingly, Isaiah directed his message to the fearful heart and to those that have lost hope. He said, “Be strong, fear not!” and he went further to announce the coming of God to save His people from their pains and oppression. In his apocalyptic tone, he said, “The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” Obviously, this message of Isaiah is directed to Christ the Messiah. The message of John the Baptist to Christ helps us to understand this passage. When he was in prison, he became discouraged, and began to wonder if Jesus was the Messiah he had proclaimed Him to be. When John’s disciples brought this question to Jesus, He replied, “Go and tell the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the Gospel preached to them…” (Matt 11:4-6).
Apparently, Christ is the Messiah that had come to bring God’s salvation. At His coming, the unimaginable shall happen, “For water shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the deserts; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water.” The apocalypse of Isaiah is what is realized in today’s Gospel. Some friends brought a man who was deaf and had impediment in his speech; and they begged Jesus to lay His hands upon him. Mark presents Jesus as the expected Messiah fulfilling the apocalypse of Isaiah and also, presents the healing ministry of Jesus Christ through the deaf and dumb man. Throughout the ministry of Jesus Christ, He unveils to us different ways of healing. He healed with words, he healed without a word, He healed in response to one’s faith and He healed in response to the faith of another, as in the case of today’s Gospel, the faith of the friends to this man brought him healing.
Christ did something completely new to catch this man’s attention. Words could not have caught his attention because he was deaf. Through touch and the use of spittle, Christ entered into the mental world of the man and gained his confidence. There is an interesting catechesis in this Gospel pericope, Christ puts his fingers first in his ears and later touched his tongue. Invariably, He calls us to listen to Him first and later announce the Gospel to others. Put differently, “To be Carthusians indoors and Apostles outdoors” (St. Joseph Marello). Also, being deaf and dumb is not only a physical deformity, it also symbolizes paganism as the Israelites would shut their ears and would no longer listen to the Lord. We also become spiritually deformed if we do not listen to Christ or speak of the Gospel. The moment we cannot speak or talk to God in prayers, our hearts become a pagan territory. Today, as Christ took the man from the multitude privately, in same way He is taking us aside to have a personal encounter with Him so that we can announce the Gospel effectively.
In a nutshell, St James in the second reading awakens us to this reality, to listen to Christ through the voice of the poor without any form of discrimination. He frowns at whoever despises the poor to favour the rich. Many of our brothers and sisters with special needs suffer this discrimination, which also cuts across the rich and the poor, white and black as well as other sects of life. While we encourage those in special apostolate for the deaf and dumb, it is necessary that we all take cognizance of these people in our midst and not get ourselves involved in any form of partiality or discrimination. By so doing, we unveil Christ to their lives and the lives of the poor.
Happy Sunday! Fr. Ken Dogbo, OSJ