23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time – A Personal Invitation

Mark 7:31-37 | 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B

A Personal Invitation

Even Jesus got distracted! His primary mission was to teach, but suffering people filled Jesus with compassion, and that’s when He performed miracles. People in 1 AD, like people in 2021 AD, preferred a quick-fix to the slow change brought through teaching. They kept bringing impossible cases to Him. He’d be filled with emotion for the suffering and perform one of His oft-talked about miracles. Which of course, only fueled the fire for more.

In this section of Mark, a deaf man with a serious speech impediment was brought to Jesus. This man had probably been deaf since birth, and since we can’t know what we have never experienced, he wouldn’t have known what it meant to hear. He probably recognized he was different from others but wouldn’t have understood how. That’s a universal experience—we’ve all felt that somehow we’re somehow different from others, though we don’t know exactly what differentiates us.

While Jesus healed in a variety of ways—in crowds, by touch, from a distance, by His words—this man’s inability to hear Jesus’s words would have made his experience of Jesus’s touch even more important. Deaf since birth, even upon being able to receive sound, the man wouldn’t have understood words. Jesus gave the man an additional gift—not only hearing but also understanding speech.

Jesus can give us these gifts as well: the ability to hear Him and the equally important gift of understanding Him. Then it’s up to us to take it to the next level and use what He’s taught us. This gospel miracle is a metaphor for Jesus’s primary mission—teaching. Being exposed to an idea means little if we don’t understand it. Understanding an idea means little if we don’t put it to use. Jesus wanted us to do all three—hear, understand, and apply.

When Jesus took the man to the side, touched his ears and his tongue and “groaned…Ephphatha (that is, ‘Be opened!’)” (v. 4), I wonder if He was returning to His core mission of teaching.  Jesus didn’t just ask that the man hear. He asked that the man “be opened.” To hear doesn’t necessarily imply change. We all often listen and hear only what we already believe, and that can’t change us. But, to be open implies the potential for movement and adaptation, for growth.

The miracle, the quick-fix solution, may or may not create lasting change. But Jesus’s miracles are always something much deeper, if we are open to His invitation. Jesus never performed a miracle to demonstrate His power. He performed them out of deep compassion and to extend an invitation into a deeper relationship with Him. Look for a miracle and then search for the invitation behind the event. Our pursuit of the relationship in the invitation, that’s where Jesus’s mission shines—that’s where He effects the most change as Rabbi and Teacher and Lord.

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