23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Sept 5-6, 2015 Holy Rosary Parish
St. Mark uses a literary convention in his Gospel that has come to be known as “the Messianic Secret.” In the earliest days of his ministry, Jesus tells those he heals not to tell anyone. He even tells demons that he casts out to be quiet as they proclaim him the “Holy one of God.” He wants them to keep it secret. This may seem counter-productive when the purpose of his ministry is to proclaim the Kingdom that he himself has come to initiate. But, this is St. Mark’s way of telling us that it is not yet time to reveal to the World that Jesus is the Messiah. Even after Peter’s famous profession of faith, in which he proclaims plainly that he believes that Jesus IS the Messiah, Jesus tells them not to tell anyone else. It will only be after the revelation of his Glory in the Transfiguration that Jesus no longer issues the warning of silence. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus reveals his own messianic identity gradually and the full revelation will come only on the Cross and with the post-resurrection appearances.
What is remarkable in all of the stories from these first 7 chapters of Mark’s Gospel is the common response of those who encounter Jesus. With the exception of the religious leaders, who respond in jealousy and fear of the loss of status, those who encounter Jesus, those who encounter his teaching, those who encounter his healing, those who encounter his charismatic presence, respond in a common way: they become DISCIPLES, that is, FOLLOWERS OF JESUS and PROCLAIMERS OF HIS GOOD WORK.
But it goes deeper than that. It’s not that they simply become disciples and proclaimers. They are compelled by their experience of the Lord Jesus to speak. Like the man healed of leprosy in Chapter 1, even when directed by Jesus to say nothing, this man healed of deafness and a speech impediment cannot keep his mouth shut! And I believe that this is the primary lesson of Discipleship in this story from Saint Mark’s Gospel: The Disciple of Jesus – the one who has had a meaningful encounter with Jesus, or the one who has been healed by Jesus; the one who has been converted by Jesus CANNOT KEEP HIS MOUTH SHUT about it.
I am reminded of the Prophet Jeremiah, who during one of his more spiteful moments, after he had encountered difficulty as a Prophet, decided he would not prophesy any more: “I say I will not mention him, I will no longer speak in his name. But then it is as if fire is burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding back, I cannot!” (Jeremiah 20:9). Having encountered the remarkable power of God, having accepted the call to be a Prophet, even when faced with the murderous murmurings of his enemies, Jeremiah cannot keep the Word of God inside. HE MUST SPEAK. HE cannot keep his mouth shut
And think about the man in today’s story. He was deaf and had a severe speech impediment. He could not hear the Word before, he could not speak it easily. Now with his ears open and his tongue loosed, he will not be constrained! You cannot give the a man a new faculty of hearing or speech and expect them not to use them. Of course he would not keep his mouth shut. It had been shut for too long. Now He must speak.
Think of St. Paul and his marvelous conversion. Having encountered the Lord Jesus, Paul was compelled to tell everyone about it even to the ends of the earth. Think of the Disciples on the Road to Emmaus. After an exhausting weekend, after a long walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus, having encounters the Lord Jesus in the Breaking of the Bread, they RAN all the way back to Jerusalem to share the good news! They could not keep it inside, they could not keep their mouth shut.
Like the Disciples on the Road to Emmaus, we come here to this Church, to this table week after week to encounter the Lord. We say that we believe that he makes himself known to us in the Scriptures and in the Breaking of the Bread. We celebrate with him and gives us himself as food, as strength for the journey. We come because he calls us. He himself invites us to receive his Body and Blood, the food of disciples. Have you ever left the Eucharist so convinced of the presence of Jesus that you would have been compelled to run 13 miles (that’s how far Emmaus was from Jerusalem) – that you would run 13 miles to tell someone about it?
Forget mass for a minute. Have you ever had ANY meaningful encounter with Jesus that was so powerful that you HAD to tell someone?
Have you EVER shared your faith with anyone? Do your colleagues at work KNOW that you are a believer? Would your friends be surprised to find out that you have a relationship with Jesus. Parents – do your children know that Jesus is an important part of your life? Have you ever felt the need to share your faith with ANYONE else?
When Jesus invites us to Follow Him, he equips us through the Holy Spirit to proclaim him to the world. He calls every disciple to be willing to talk about him. And it is not enough that we proclaim the good news of salvation here. That is literally “preaching to the choir.” It is the world out there that needs the Good News and if we are hiding it here in the walls of the Church and only professing it in formulaic creeds, we are doing one of the primary works of the Disciple. Like the man in today’s story, are tongues are bound and we are in need of healing by the messiah.
In the first reading today, we have part of the Messianic promises of the Prophet Isaiah. He speaks of the messianic age when the Lord will appear to bring vindication to his people, The appearance of the Messiah will be accompanied by great signs: The blind will see, the ears of the deaf will be opened, the mute tongue will sing for joy and the lame will leap like a stag. The Evangelists offer the stories of healing to show us that, in Jesus, the Messianic age has come. Our scriptures are filled with stories of those who encounter the Lord, the Messiah. Some are dramatic stories of miraculous healings, others are profound conversions, real turning from evil to good, and yet others are simple acceptances of the invitation to follow the one who came to give life. But no matter how the disciple became a disciple, disciples share a willingness, even a compulsion to tell others about Jesus and to invite others to follow with them. The Disciple cannot keep his mouth shut.
If you are like me, you find this difficult outside of a specifically “churchy” context. Maybe you have been bullied by a person from another Church and felt it was too invasive and you would not want to be that guy, to force your faith on someone else. And that’s not what I am talking about. I am not saying that every disciple of Jesus has to an obnoxious proselytizer. I am saying that as followers of Jesus our lives and our words need to reflect Jesus. It should be apparent to everyone that we are disciples of the Lord.
Sometimes we, even those of us who have been a part of the Church for many years, discover that we have never made that commitment to be a disciple of the Lord. We are comfortable coming here week after week, even receiving communion, exchanging the sign of peace with a few people around us and dropping a few dollars in the collection plate. We will make sure our kids get their sacraments and we might even drop by the confessional a couple of times a year. But often we find ourselves unwilling to take the next steps in the following of Jesus. We don’t want a church that makes too many demands of us and we certainly don’t want to talk to anyone else about Jesus.
But why? What stands in our way? Maybe we are like the man in today’s Gospel - in need of the messianic healing of Jesus. Maybe we have been deaf to the Word of God by which Jesus calls us to deeper relationship with him. Relationship with Jesus demands that we hear him from the scriptures, in the teachings of the Church, in the sacraments. But it is not enough to simply show up. We have to be engaged, actively listening, allowing our hearts to be shaped in the Image of God. Maybe we need to ask the messiah to remove our deafness to his Word so that we can grow in his grace.
Maybe like the Man in the Gospel, we need to ask the messiah to unbind our tongues to speak his word to others – For us Catholics it is often a fear that keeps us from speaking, or worse yet, pride. We don’t want to appear too pious, too religious, too fanatical, so it is better to keep it to ourselves. To grow as disciples, we need to ask the Lord to heal us of the fear and pride that binds our tongues, so that, like the man in today’s Gospel, we can speak plainly to others about What Jesus has done for us.
Brothers and sisters, This is not about being a member of the Church. To paraphrase John the Baptist “God can raise up Church members from these stones.” It is all about Discipleship. The Lord calls. The Lord invites, the Lord beckons. We have the choice. Will we follow a little bit, offering the minimum and holding on to as much as we can. Or will we offer everything? Letting go of all, allowing the Lord to heal us, and following more closely, growing more profoundly in love with him and truly becoming his disciple? The disciple must talk about Jesus. The disciple is anxious for others to experience the good thing they have found. They want to share the Lord. The disciple cannot keep his mouth shut!
Our world still needs to hear the Word of God. One needs only look at the newspaper or listen to the news any day to see how much the world needs the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Saint Paul says: "But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach if they are not sent?" The Preachers have been sent! Jesus has entrusted His Word to his disciples and sent us to bring the Good News to a world in need. Woe to us if we do not preach. For the sake of the World, we cannot keep our mouths shut...
Fr. Bart Hutcherson, OP
Fr. Bart Hutcherson, OP is a Roman Catholic Priest & a Friar of the Dominican Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus-USA. He is on the Pastoral Staff at Most Holy Rosary Parish in Antioch, California, and uses this page to post Homilies and Scripture reflections.