The Miracle of Listening and Speaking
Returning from the district of Tyre, Jesus went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, right through the Decapolis region. And they brought him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they asked him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, put his fingers into the man's ears and touched his tongue with spittle. Then looking up to heaven he sighed; and he said to him, "Ephphata", that is "Be opened." And his ears were opened, and the ligament of his tongue was loosened and he spoke clearly.
And Jesus ordered them to tell no one about it, but the more he insisted, the more widely they published it. Their admiration was unbounded. "He has done all things well," they said; "he makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.
One of the places where miracles happen is in Alcoholics Anonymous. It happens there whenever an alcoholic becomes sober and remains sober.
This is always a miracle of hearing and a miracle of speaking.
The miracle begins when the alcoholic finally hears what a lot of people have been saying to him, ‘you have a problem with alcohol and it is getting worse; you need help.’ The miracle opens his ears and his heart so that he can hear and accept that he has a problem, a problem that has bested him. He can admit at last, ‘I am powerless over alcohol.’ He goes with fear and trembling to his first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, and is now able to listen. He hears other alcoholics tell their stories – stories of denial, anguish guilt, and of immense suffering caused to others and to themselves. Here are people whose problems were like his problems; if they could stop drinking, there is hope for him too. They were as helpless as he is, but they put their trust in the higher power of God, and they remain sober one day at a time.
The second part of the miracle comes later: he begins to speak. He is able to speak openly and honestly to one trustworthy person. He learns to speak to God too, with humility and trust. In due course he may feel sufficiently at home with the group to stand up and tell his story.
Small miracles at home and abroad
We see smaller miracles of hearing and speaking in ordinary family life. When my mother was exasperated with us she would say, ‘I might as well be talking to the wall.’ There are moments of grace when family members – spouses, parents, children, teenagers – finally get through to one another. They are able to listen and to talk to each other in a clearer and deeper way, and may be willing to make the changes they need to make. Divided communities and hostile countries take a big step towards reconciliation when they begin to listen to each other and are willing to keep talking until they work out just solutions to the problems that engulf them.
Great events often begin when someone speaks and someone listens. The Christian faith came first to what is now the continent of Europe when a woman named Lydia listened. St. Paul arrived in the city of Philippi and preached to a group of women who used to meet on the bank of a river to pray. The Acts of the Apostles reports that ‘Lydia listened and the Lord opened her heart to accept what Paul was saying.’ She and her family were baptized and her home became the meeting place for the Christian community as it developed in the city.
When Jesus cured the deaf man with the speech impediment, he did it out of compassion for him, but he did it also as a sign of what God wants to do in the world. God wants his world to be a place where people open their ears and their hearts to listen to each other, to their own deepest selves, and to God. He wants to loosen people’s tongues to say clearly and honestly what needs to be said.
Lord, you cured the man whose hearing and speech were impaired.
We praise your compassion for him
and thank you for showing the same compassion to us.
Open our ears and our hearts
to listen to you and to our neighbour;
touch our lips and enable us to praise you
and to speak truthfully and lovingly to one another.