The Deaf Hear and the Mute Speak – What does it all mean?

Editor’s Note: Reflection on the Mass readings for the Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) – Isaiah 35:4-7; Psalms 146:7, 8-9, 9-10; James 2:1-5; Mark 7:31-37. This series usually appears each Wednesday.


Photography © by Andy Coan

There is little doubt, even in the minds of agnostic historians, that Jesus really worked miracles.  After all, the disturbance caused by some of his mighty works was in part responsible for his execution.  He healed on the Sabbath, breaking a rabbinical regulation against medical “work” on the day of rest.  He caused a sensation by raising Lazarus on the outskirts of Jerusalem–too close for comfort as far as the Chief Priests were concerned.

But the question is, why did he work miracles?  Did he really care about the individuals he fed, healed, and delivered from evil?  Or was he just trying to make a statement?

This Sunday’s gospel helps us answer this question – it reveals that his miracles were truly miracles of mercy.  Jesus encounters a deaf-mute in his travels.  He does not make a spectacle of himself.  No grandstanding, no fanfare.  In fact, Jesus takes him away from the crowd, off by himself.  And once the deaf-mute is healed, Jesus commands him not to tell anyone about it.  Of course, the man is too ecstatic to keep the good news to himself.  But the situation makes clear Jesus’ primary and unwavering commitment to relieve suffering wherever he finds it, out of sincere compassion for the afflicted.

But human beings often have multiple motivations for the very same action.  Why should it be any different for the Holy Spirit?  Jesus’ miracles reveal not only his compassion, but his hidden identity.  You and I may meet a deaf mute and feel pity in the face of his suffering.  But the power to bestow speech and hearing is a bit beyond us.  It is, however, not beyond Jesus.  The Holy Spirit who inspired the words of the Old Testament led the Son of God to this particular man in part because his healing would fulfill the words of Isaiah . . . that God himself would come to save his people, opening the ears of the deaf and causing the mute to speak. Jesus’ miracles are called “signs” in John’s Gospel because they point beyond themselves to the bigger picture, the plan of salvation stretching from Genesis to Revelation and to the Savior who is the focal point of the whole drama.

There is something else in the story that it would be easy to miss.  Jesus begins his journey in the region of Sidon and comes to the Decapolis, on the eastern shore of the Jordan, where he meets the deaf-mute.  These regions have something in common: they are both pagan territories.  Yes, Jesus comes first and foremost for the lost children of Israel.  But his compassion knows no bounds.  His miraculous love transforms the lives of the pious and the outcasts as well –tax collectors, Samaritans, gentiles, even the hated Romans!

So James calls us to do no more than follow the example of Jesus.  The prejudice which causes us to give preferential treatment to the beautiful people – the popular, wealthy, good-looking and “nice” – may seem to come “naturally” to us who are wounded by original sin.  But it needs to be renounced by those who have accepted the healing gift of grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  In the body of Christ, if there is any preferential treatment to be given, it is to those in greatest need, even if they happen to speak another language and come from a different country.  In fact, the unity and brotherhood of different ethnic groups, personality types, and socioeconomic groups in one Church is a sign that this is no man-made sect, depending on merely human forces to hold it together.  No, this is a community whose unity is due to divine power, the power of the Spirit.  And it is no spiritual club for those who look alike and dress alike.  It is instead comprised by people from every tribe, tongue, people, language, occupation, and lifestyle.  It is the universal family of God, the Church Catholic.


Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118. This article originally appeared in Our Sunday Visitor and is reproduced here by permission of the author.


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About the Author

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118.

Raised in Italian/Irish neighborhood in Providence, RI, Marcellino D’Ambrosio never thought about being anything else but Catholic. But like other Catholic teens, his faith was the last place he looked for fulfillment. Following in the footsteps of his parents, both professional performers in their single years, Marcellino set his sights on stardom, playing bass guitar in several popular rock bands by the time he was 16. At that time he encountered a group of Catholics whose Christian life was an exciting adventure, an adventure worth living for. So he laid his bass guitar aside and embarked on a road that led to a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Catholic University of America. His doctoral dissertation, written under the direction of the renowned Jesuit theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, focused on one of the theological lights of the Second Vatican Council, Henri Cardinal de Lubac, and his recovery of biblical interpretation of the early Church fathers.

His writing has been published in the international journal Communio, Abingdon’s Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, the Tablet, Catholic Digest, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic News Service’s syndicated column "Faith Alive." His popular book, Exploring the Catholic Church and video course by the same name (known as Touching Jesus through the Church in the USA) have been used in hundreds of parishes all throughout the English speaking world. The Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions about the Passion of the Christ, of which he is co-author and co-editor, may prove to be the fastest-selling Catholic book of all time with over a million copies sold in less than three months.

Dr. D’Ambrosio, the father of five and a business owner, brings to his teaching a practical, down-to-earth perspective that makes his words easy to understand and put into practice. Audio and video recordings of his popular teaching are internationally distributed. He often appears on the international Eternal Word Television Network is regularly heard on the nationally syndicated radio show "Catholic Answers Live." Dr. D'Ambrosio has been a guest on Geraldo Rivera, At Large on FoxNews Channel, the Bill O'Reilly radio show and Radio America's news program Dateline: Washington.

In 2001 Dr. D’Ambrosio left his position at the University of Dallas to develop the work of Crossroads Productions, the apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization that he co-founded twenty years ago, and to more directly oversee the growth of Wellness Opportunities Group a company dedicated to helping people improve the quality of their lives physically, mentally, and financially. He, his wife Susan, and their five children, reside just outside of San Antonio, TX.

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