We continue our lectio by praying with the next few verses of Mark’s Gospel…
“The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.”Fourth Explanatory Rite of Baptism
So runs the prayer which accompanies the fourth explanatory rite – following the anointing with oil of chrism, the clothing with the white garment, and the giving of the lighted candle – which together complete the ceremonies of baptism. The Rite of Ephphetha – the opening – has its direct origin in today’s lectio passage and, as with all signs in the liturgy, invites reflection and reveals truth clothed in the mystery.
Very few of us can recall the moment of our baptism because it belongs to our farthest infancy and so resides in that time when memory is not yet attuned to explicit storing and recall. Perhaps that has something to do with our difficulty in allowing it to be the dynamic event which it is in itself. It almost belongs to a point in time which is, in effect, pre-remembered personal history, or at least beyond the recall of our personal experience. And yet it remains the most definitive moment in our lives! By it we become altogether new creations, conformed to Christ, graced, and incorporated into Christ’s Body, the Church. Henri de Lubac, reflecting on the totality of this mystery in the context of a discussion on the sacraments in Catholicism, writes this:
“Since the sacraments are the means of salvation they should be understood as instruments of unity. As they make real, renew or strengthen man’s union with Christ, by that very fact they make real, renew or strengthen his union with the Christian community. And this second aspect of the sacraments, the social aspect, is so intimately bound up with the first that it can often be said, indeed in certain cases it must be said, that it is through this union with the community that the Christian is united to Christ”de Lubac, Catholicism, 32
This unity and union, sustained by all the sacraments in and of themselves and by the believer who participates in and lives out of the sacramental life, begins, and wonderfully so in a great fullness, in baptism. De Lubac goes on:
“To be baptised is to enter the Church. And this is essentially a social event, even in the primary, extrinsic meaning of the word. But its consequences are not solely juridical; they are also spiritual, mystical, because the Church is not purely a human society…. If the sacraments derive their efficacy from the Church, it is still in view of the Church that this efficacy is bestowed upon them. The water and blood which flowed from the side of Jesus on the Cross, the water of baptism, the blood of the Eucharist, first fruits of the mystical union between Christ and his Church, are, at the same time, the streams at which that Church is nourished. As the water flows over our foreheads it does not merely effect a series of incorporations, but there takes place at the same time a “concorporation” of the whole Church in one mysterious unity”.de Lubac, Catholicism, 33
By baptism we belong to Christ and are made part of him. By baptism we belong to one another and join one another in this concorporation.
It may be too much to speak about a bapstismal connotation in this passage, or that indeed Mark intended that we understand any baptismal imagery here. However, there is a building intensity in the accounts which Mark offers of Jesus’s deeds and teachings in these chapters and together they lend a quasi sacramental flavour to the proceedings.
Mark wants to show us that Jesus’ teaching and preaching is not limited to one area – we’ve given a map of Palestine in Jesus’ day to allow you to focus some attention on this aspect of the Gospel. Sometimes Jesus is referred to as an itinerant preacher, and indeed that is what he is to a great extent. The Latin term “iter” simply means a journey. And the most basic meaning of “itinerant” is “one who is journeying”. We have no sense that Jesus is homeless – on the contrary, he seems quite at home with the people whom he meets and whom he helps. And, in a sense, he journeys with his family – the apostles and disciples and all those who accompanied him from place to place. The ultimate goal of Christ’s journeying is, of course, Jerusalem, and very soon Mark will begin to introduce the first rumblings of the reality of the Passion which will demonstrate, in a way, that Jesus is truly home, and we with him.
Perhaps we are unaware of this demand that the Gospel makes upon us – it may ask us, for the sake of the kingdom, literally to go elsewhere. That is something to which we must be open, if it comes to us. Such a change of place brings with it a change in life and lifestyle, a change in our expectations and resources. And to look back at Celtic monasticism in the first millennium it was in great part characterised by that renunciation which became known as “White Martyrdom”, the call felt by the monk to leave Ireland and travel for the sake of the Gospel. The example of Columbanus and Gall speak eloquently to this. Europe itself in her place names bears ample witness to this itinerant Irish presence and preaching. And from a human point of view it may be traumatic indeed – St Paul lets the Corinthians hear a thing or two about what he has suffered for the sake of bearing witness:
“I have worked harder, I have been sent to prison more often, and whipped so many times more, often almost to death. Five times I had the thirty-nine lashes from the Jews; three times I have been beaten with sticks; once I was stoned; three times I have been shipwrecked and once adrift in the open sea for a night and a day. Constantly travelling, I have been in danger from rivers and in danger from brigands, in danger from my own people and in danger from pagans; in danger in the towns, in danger in the open country, danger at sea and danger from so-called brothers. I have worked and laboured, often without sleep; I have been hungry and thirsty and often starving. I have been in the cold and often without clothes. And, to leave out much more, there is my daily preoccupation: my anxiety for all the churches.”II Corinthians 11:23-28
A life involved in preaching and witnessing to the Gospel can seem to be somewhat disrupted – but it is one which gradually and with greater freedom opens itself to God’s will being worked out in my life and my demands being put into perspective by this. But our stability will not necessarily be found by staying in the one place, geographically. What it does ask of us is an interior stability, one which strives for the peace and rest which a maturing relationship with God, through prayer and work, brings with it. The living of the Gospel has an internal and indisputable stability because God in Christ is always at the centre, and he is the Constant – it is we who tend to be inconstant!
The man at the centre of this Gospel passage is an Everyman – he reflects, in some way, all of us in his hardness of hearing and slowness of speech. We don’t have to spend very long reflecting on this for it to become a pivotal point of prayer for the next week or so. The simple fact of the matter remains that we often hear what we want to hear and what suits us, and can easily become deaf to that which disturbs and discomforts us. In the same way, the ligament of our tongue is often tied if telling it as we should might bring opposition from others. It is a question which bears asking again and again – if I really listened to Christ’s teaching in the Gospels and the development of this teaching in the other books of the New Testament, how would it change the way I live my life and my relationships with God and others and self? If I heard what it was saying to me and had the deep desire which such hearing brings to learn more in the Church’s teaching, how would I immerse myself in that and how would it change me? And if change were possible – and it always is – how would it loosen my tongue to express this?
Consider for a moment that Christ, once again as he did at the moment of your baptism, is doing this for you – he is touching your ears, touching your mouth, sighing in prayer, from the depths of his being (which, of course, is from the very depths of his Spirit!), and joining with the Spirit and the Father in saying these words: Be opened!
Consider for a moment that this is an extraordinarily intimate moment between you and Jesus. He took the man aside, in private, away from the prying eyes and ears of others – in fact, the people who brought the man to Jesus – and, when they two were alone, did this for the man. This is Christ fitting himself to the personal and utterly unique circumstances of this man’s affliction, and healing, not in a general way, but personally. In a sense, Jesus says: this is how I heal this person; if you bring me another with the same affliction I must heal him in the way which is right for him. And so it is for you: what Jesus has in store for you is marked out for you alone, and could never, and will never, be the gift for another.
Jesus’ ability to relate instantly in the most personal way is meant to be a blueprint for how he meets me and you – God’s encounter with each of us is unique and unrepeatable: he meets no two persons in the same way, but receives each of us as the person whom he has created and loved for his and her own sake.
And he has the gentleness to lay a hand on us, as he did with this man. In a time when personal space, bubbles and social distancing dictate how we relate to one another and to groups, we are reminded that our very physicality is a primary means of expression and communication. It is supremely so because Christ embraces the fullness of our humanity and experiences as we do, and more than most of us do. It is tender – touching and healing, being touched and anointed on the feet, with the moistness of tears and the wipe of hair; it is treacherous – a kiss from one who was thought to be “friend” but reveals himself as traitor, and so the kiss of peace between disciple and rabbi becomes a kiss of betrayal; and it is terrible – in all of the violence of the suffering of the passion, scourging, thorns, cross, falls, crucifixion, and death. So, Christ’s physicality and humanity are not deception or only appearance, but real and fleshly. They incarnate our experienced humanity, so that nothing of our experienced humanity should be ignored.
This story involves the whole person meeting Jesus – flesh and blood, senses and emotions, private and public. And it is, in case we need to say it, utterly transformational. Could this be you? Of course – it is you!
If we are waiting for this encounter to happen we have missed the point of the story, and the very Gospel so far. This is not about something which is going to happen in the future. This is about an encounter which is happening now, as you read and pray this text, and hear Jesus saying to you “Be opened!”. Because we often think of ourselves as unworthy, in some way, of such a moment and meeting, we miss the fact that Jesus is already beside us, touching us, opening ears, heart and mouth. He is doing all of this for us – and now he waits for us to respond as did this man. He, in his joy, could not contain himself. It is as if he received the one thing that he has been waiting all his life to receive, and now he can’t put it down! It’s the gift that he will never tire of, and it will never wear out.
Now, go and do the same. Recall the wonderful dismissal which we now have at the close of the Eucharist: Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.
-Part of our continuous lectio divina on the Gospel According to Mark-