We don’t like to feel helpless, do we? In fact, we spend a lot of time, money, and mental energy in order to feel in control. Some of this can come down to simply being prudent, such as picking a carseat or vehicle with a good safety rating or following the sign in the mall parking lot to “take, hide, and lock” your valuables. However, at times and for some, our pursuit of feeling like we are in control can become a dangerous obsession. We see it in relationships where one person attempts to dominate the other through psychological or physical abuse; we see it in relentless pursuits of financial security; we see it in the varied, sometimes violent, responses of people to stressful or unexpected situations, to perceived injustices, or to the experience of tragedy or loss. We retreat into the world of sports, television, even books or exercise, all in an attempt to wrest some semblance of control from the midst of the chaos we see around us.
This is one of the great paradoxes of life as a Christian. As we grow and mature we are expected to become independent and self-sufficient, however Jesus Christ teaches us that the Kingdom of God belongs to those who have faith like a child. You see, the one thing that is consistent about all children, and is the hallmark of that childlike faith, is the concept of dependency and sufficiency. A child cannot function independent of a parent; a baby cannot live self-sufficiently but only lives by the nurturing grace of the mother towards him. If this is the kind of faith that is to be the hallmark of the citizens of the divine Kingdom, then we have a lot of cultural programming to overcome to become fully mature in our Christian lives.
Both our Gospel and our epistle readings today touch on this issue. The Gospel reading does so through the example of the life of Jesus and the storytelling of St. Mark as he records for us the actions of Christ. St. Paul then provides the logical argument to defend what we witness in the actions of our Savior.
In the Gospel, Jesus encounters a man born deaf and mute. This man cannot hear; this man cannot speak. Recall, this is in a day and age before the advent of hearing aids, cellphones with texting capabilities and text-to-speech computer software; they had no known system of sign language, or even easy and inexpensive access to writing implements. In fact, some scholars point to literacy rates of under 10% during the time of Jesus’ ministry, so even if a deaf and mute person in the 1st century had ready access to writing implements and was of the minority that could read and write, the likelihood of the person to whom he needed to communicate also being able to read and write would have been extremely slim. In other words, someone who was deaf and mute in the 1st century would have a categorically different experience in life than a person with the same condition in our contemporary culture.
This should paint a picture of the quality and challenges of life for this man Jesus encountered who was deaf and mute. He would have had limited ability to be self-sufficient and independent. His ability to conduct business or obtain the basic necessities of life would have been hindered to the point that it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for him to live without the direct intervention of others. In fact, it was others who appear to have brought him to Jesus to begin with.
Jesus, therefore, encountered a man whose life was a picture of having childlike faith in the grace and mercy of others for his very survival, and He healed that man. He gave Him ears to listen and a mouth to speak. He gave him something He could not obtain on His own and the man’s response was to use this gift of speech to proclaim the great and marvelous things that were done for him.
We are much like this man. We are born into this world without the ability to fend for ourselves. We are dependent upon others, and if we are honest with ourselves, when we consider the eternal and spiritual realm of which we are a part, we do not have ears to hear and we do not have mouths to speak, and so we turn to the only one that can open our ears and release our mouths, to the one who responds to the childlike realization that we cannot survive on our own, and He says to our ears and to our mouths, “be opened.”
He says to our ears, “be opened and hear of the wonders that I have done, hear my voice for my voice calls out to you to come unto me, and enter my Kingdom, to be reunited with me.” He says to our wayward ears, the ears that heard God walking in the garden in the cool of the morning and responded by arrogantly hiding from Him; He says to these cursed ears of ours that are so ready to hear gossip and slander, so ready to hear criticism and insult, He says to these ears, “be opened to the sweet sound of the voice of the one who has been calling for you for so long, and hear me.”
He then says to our mouths, “be opened and speak what I have spoken to you, and tell of the wonders of the Kingdom for which you have been created to inhabit.” He says to these lips, the lips of Adam, which in the garden sought to cast blame on Eve, the lips of Eve which sought to cast blame on the serpent, the lips of our first parents who sought to use their lips to be self-sufficient and independent rather than use their lips to proclaim the truth of the goodness and sufficiency of God; He takes these lips and says, “be opened to praise my name, be opened to enter into communion with me, be opened to proclaim to all what it is that I have done for you.”
This man that Jesus encountered, his ears and lips were not opened so that he could then proceed through life alone. Rather, by having his ears opened and his tongue released he was able to freely choose to follow the one who rescued him. Before he was healed, he had not choice but to depend upon others. After he was healed, though, he could have chosen to do anything with his newfound freedom. He could have chosen to curse the name of the God who allowed him to experience life with ears that could not hear and a mouth that could not speak; but instead, he chose to use his newfound freedom to not only proclaim the name of Jesus, but, as St. Mark describes it, to zealously proclaim that, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
Jesus did not force this man to proclaim this message. In fact, we see Jesus charge the man to keep this quiet and to tell no one. In other words, Jesus’ ministry of opening ears and mouths was not done in order to conscript people into following Him. Rather, for this man, Jesus was freeing him from his slavery to silence. This man chose to use that freedom, to use his new voice, to speak of the one who set him free.
In Simon and Garfunkel’s song, “The Sound of Silence,” the songwriter tells of his experience with a world that is locked in silence, where people go through life without a voice, turned inward on themselves, caught in a trap of self-sufficiency and independence that renders them feeling utterly alone in the midst of a sea of people. The lyrics observe,
And in the naked light I saw,
Ten thousand people, maybe more,
People talking without speaking,
People hearing without listening,
People writing songs that voices never shared,
And no one dared, disturb the sound of silence.
We go through life rubbing shoulders with countless souls who are trapped in a sea of silence. Their ears are clouded by selfishness and pride, by distrust, by anger, by thoughts of vengeance and violence. Their tongues are conditioned to speak words of hurt and hatred and are restrained from speaking the words of love and compassion, kindness and charity, mercy and grace. They are caught up in the chaotic currents of an ocean of souls that are seeking meaning, seeking purpose, seeking someone who will take the time to hear the song of the story of their life.
All too often people look to the gods of their own creation to be released from these currents of chaos. “The Sound of Silence” continues:
And the people bowed and prayed,
To the neon God they made,
And the sign flashed out its warning,
In the words that it was forming,
And the sign said “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls,
And tenement halls,” and whispered in the sound of silence
Self-sufficiency and independence cannot release us from the silent tomb of sin, but so often it is from the gods of our own making that we seek release and redemption, rather than from the one who conquered sin on the cross and defeated death in the resurrection.
It is to this world that we have been sent; it is into this sea of silence that we are to follow Christ to join Him in opening ears and releasing tongues, and not so that we can then force them to follow Jesus, for Jesus does not force Himself on anyone, but so they can be free to turn to Jesus in gratitude and thanksgiving for the grace and mercy He has shown to them and for the redemption He has purchased for them
We do this, not of our own strength and ability, but through the power of God working through us by way of the indwelling Holy Spirit we received at our baptism and that is renewed in us through the grace we receive when we partake of His body and blood in the Holy Eucharist. Our own ears have been opened and our tongues released, not so we can glory for ourselves and strike out in life as those who are not in continual need of God, but as those who are grounded in the childlike faith that leads us to confess that we need His eternal sustenance.
To this end, St. Paul writes,
Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
Our sufficiency is from God. Our purpose in life come from an eternal, all-powerful source other than ourselves. We have been freed to have ears that can hear and mouths that can speak. My question today, then, is will we use the ears He has uncovered to hear the voice of God, or will we use them to listen only to ourselves? Will we listen for he cries of desperation of those that are still drowning in the silent sea of chaos, or will we listen for them and thereby continue Christ’s ministry of rescue and reconciliation? Will we use the mouths He has released to speak of His goodness, or to applaud our own egos? Will we speak of His love, compassion, and kindness, or will we speak only of our own desires and prejudices?
Our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant. To be ministers of His covenant. Let us seek to be ministers of that covenant, that our voices may be heard in the sea of silence around us as we seek to draw people back to the God whose voice is patiently guiding us all back to Himself. Amen.