Reading today's scripture lessons, it is easy to spot the common theme. They all reference healing in some way -- opening the eyes of the blind, healing the lame, feeding the hungry, making the deaf to hear, setting captives free, and so on. The gospel reading from Mark has Jesus curing a man who is deaf, and has a speech impediment. This miraculous healing causes people to talk about Jesus and say, "He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak."
There is much to reflect on in these passages. Surely they speak of the mercy of God. They remind us of our own need for healing (physical or spiritual). And the miracle performed by Jesus gives testimony to his divinity. All these things are true.
But what struck me this week in reading the Gospel was the sheer grittiness of the encounter between Jesus and the deaf man. Place yourself in the scene. Imagine that you are the deaf man and this Jesus comes up to you. What does he do?
The gospel reading gives us a vivid description. Imagine Jesus standing before you. First he sticks his finger into your ear. Then he spits, and puts his fingers into your mouth to touch your tongue (the gospel does not say where Jesus spits, so perhaps it is on your tongue, or into his hands). Then, while he has his hands in your ear and in your mouth, he leans his head back and looks up. Then he opens his mouth and groans. Afterwards, he speaks the word Ephphatha which means "be opened." And suddenly you can hear the rush of sound entering your ears.
What impresses me about this whole scene is not necessarily that Jesus performed a miracle -- we are rather used to hearing about Jesus doing that. Rather, it is the way he performs it. Think about it. Jesus is the Divine Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. As God, couldn't he have simply willed that the man be healed, and it would have been so? Certainly that is within God's power.
But that's not how he chose to go about it. The way he chose to heal involves touching, spitting, and groaning. It all comes across as very physical.
This physicality is a key aspect of our Catholic faith. Many of the ancient heresies contained the idea of dualism. That is, they believed that only things of the spirit are good, whereas anything material was inherently evil. Some of these ancient heresies, for example, believed that Jesus was a being of pure spirit, and only appeared human in order to teach us; and the message he came to teach was that we needed to free ourselves from all attachment to this physical world; that heaven meant being released from our bodies and living as pure enlightened spirit. These heresies have always been condemned by the Church, but they continue to creep up from time to time even today.
Our faith is a very physical faith. Our God, we believe, was Incarnate. That word means "made flesh" -- it has the same root at carnal and carnivore. Our God was born as a baby from his mother's womb. And anyone who has ever seen a birth knows was a messy business that is. He was nursed at his mother's breast, which is a very intimate, physical action.
Furthermore, he wants us to commune with him in a very physical way, as well. Just as he was nourished by his mother's body, he wants us to be nourished from his. He commands us to eat his flesh and drink his blood.
When he heals people, he does so by touching them, and using things such as spit and mud (as in the case of the man born blind). His first miracle was to turn water into wine, and it was performed at a wedding, celebrating the union of a man and a woman into one flesh.
Our Lord is a physical Lord, and would suffer great physical pain and humiliation for the sake of our sins, and would die the worst kind of physical death on the cross for us. And then he would rise bodily from death. His glorified body was physical, as well -- he invited Thomas to touch his wounds, and he did ordinary things such as eat fish. It was that physical body which Ascended into heaven and now sits at the right hand of the Father.
This is our faith. It's not just some esoteric spiritual construct. It's physical and Catholics rejoice in this. It is why we use material things in our worship such as candles, incense, stained glass, and bells. We engage all of our senses in our adoration of God, even taste as we consume the Eucharist and drink from the precious chalice.
Our faith is sacramental. In the sacraments, God is made truly present to us by means of physical signs. Just as Jesus used things such as spit and mud to heal people, he continues to use physical elements to transmit his grace to us today -- the waters of baptism, the sacred oils of healing and confirmation, the bread and wine that become his very Body and Blood.
We are taught to have a certain detachment from physical things in this world, it is true. But not because material things are evil. Rather, it is because all of this is passing away, and something better is being prepared for us. At the end of time our bodies will rise from the grave and we will exist in eternity not as ghosts or spirits, but as human beings, with a body and a soul. This is, after all, how God made us to be. We will inhabit the "new earth" that will be created -- perfected, but still very much material. A perfect physical home for our perfect physical bodies.
When God created the physical world, he looked upon it and said, "It is good." We also need to recognize it as good, and look upon it as a grand work of art which then leads us to praise the artist, who is the ultimate good.
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374 | POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723