Updated: Oct 6, 2021
Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]. In this online format, the homily has been redacted to replace text describing the referenced video with the actual video itself.
Back in 2014, Samsung launched a video call center for the hearing impaired, and advertised it on YouTube. You may have seen a video about it; it had gone viral at the time. I include it here.
Dialogue is essential to our humanity. It’s how God created us. You may remember from Genesis, after God created the first man, he said: “It is not good for the man to be alone”. It’s not good because the man had always been created for community.
We were created in the image and likeness of God. God is a community of Divine Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the image of God, we are likewise meant to exist in community. That’s part of what it means to be human.
It’s inhuman to live in isolation. Dialogue has always had the context of community, from the very beginning. And so, God created the woman. The man had always had the capacity to speak, but it’s not until he’s with another person that he actually does. Yes, the man did name all of the animals, but we don’t actually hear his words scripturally, until he’s face to face with the woman and cries out from the heart his aching desire for community: “At last! At last, here is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!”
In our gospel today, we hear of a man who lacked the power of dialogue, seemingly. He could neither hear nor speak. The tragedy of this cannot be overstated. When an essential aspect of humanity is missing, a person can feel dehumanized.
It’s why in some cultures, exile was a punishment worse than death. One could die for the community with honor, but isolation can only be a punishment; a dehumanizing punishment. And when a society worships as a community, as was the case throughout human history for every major civilization, exile from the community meant that someone was cut off from their god.
It’s very interesting how Jesus began with the deaf and mute person in our gospel passage today. Before healing him, we hear: He took him off by himself away from the crowd. Like the ancient prophets, whose very actions conveyed God’s omniscience and will, Jesus’ action of separating the man from the crowd seems to acknowledge the man’s life experience to date.
He had been an island unto himself to some extent; alone and isolated, despite being surrounded by so many. It’s such a tragedy that we still continue to see today: living socially in isolation, despite physically living in the midst of a large community. And so, this physical separation serves as a simple admission of the man’s real loneliness. But in that moment, the man is not there alone. Jesus is there with him.
The One who first formed man from clay and breathed life into him is now touching his ears and tongue and speaking with him. That poor soul who couldn’t be in dialogue with anyone is now in dialogue with God and man in Jesus Christ, who achingly longs to be in dialogue with him.
As we heard, Jesus looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephatha!”—that is, “Be opened!”—And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly.
That voice that once broke the silence and said, “Let there be light,” and there was light; who said, “Let the waters above be separated from the waters below,” and so it was; that voice spoke to the man with a voice that breaks through all barriers and limitations, and gave him a voice that could never be silenced again. The Word that created the universe recreated the man. The man was reborn. Jesus did that for him.
We are disciples of Jesus, and this mission remains. We’re meant to be dialogue with all of humanity, building up community through the gift of dialogue and language. God knows how the world needs this today. Over the last eighteen months or so with the pandemic, we’ve witnessed such deep isolation at so many levels in our society.
Our gospel today invites us to consider ways of using language to be in dialogue with others and with God. When we pray; when we teach others to pray; when we share good news; when we visit others; when we represent those without voice (like the pre-born); when we visit prisons or homeless shelters and are in dialogue with others; when we mediate between others; when we encourage others; when we teach children to speak appropriately—these are all good ways of using language.
We abuse the gift of language when we use it in any way that undermines community with one another and with God. When we gossip, we abuse the gift of language. When we verbally attack others or their reputation, we abuse the gift of language. When we curse, we abuse the gift of language. It’s inhuman to abuse language that way—it’s actually worse than that; it’s demonic.
The man in our gospel was unable to hear or speak. Being unable to speak is simply an inhumanity. But to be able to speak, but speaking abusively, is satanic. It’s how Satan acted in the beginning. In the beginning, the serpent abused language when he used it to deceive our first parents.
Just a final thought: the very reason Jesus was able to heal the person in our gospel was because someone had told people about Jesus. And that person was someone who had formerly been possessed by many demons.
Our scene today begins in the Decapolis, where Jesus was welcomed. But the last time Jesus was in this region, he had been begged to leave. You may remember the story of a legion of demons who possessed a certain man. Jesus cast Legion out of the man, but allowed them to fill a herd of swine, which threw itself into the sea.
The people there begged Jesus to leave. They were disturbed by his authority over demons. But in Jesus’ absence, the man who had been delivered from Legion went from town to town to tell everyone about Jesus. That’s why Jesus was welcomed today. That man sewed the seed of faith, in preparation for Jesus’ next arrived.
That’s the potential of language. That’s the power of dialogue. Let’s go out there and do likewise.