After a five-week hiatus with the Gospel of Saint John, the Catholic liturgy returned to the Gospel of Saint Mark. The trip over to John was necessary for many reasons. First, the Bread of Life Discourse in John 6 deserves some attention among believers. But, secondly, since each of the three-year cycle of Sunday readings is based on one of the synoptic gospels, the sacred text of Mark needs help from John’s gospel to fill an entire year.
Consisting of only sixteen chapters, Mark is the shortest of the four gospel books.
Mark wrote at a time of Christian persecution and so he provides only the highlights, the bullet points, of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. He stresses the urgency of the Lord’s mission, with the word “immediately” being used 41 times, in order for believers to understand their own time-sensitive call to spread the kingdom of God.
With this in mind, we can approach each account given by Mark with renewed appreciation. Since the evangelist only selected the most noteworthy events, we see their preeminence in the pre-existing oral tradition from which Mark drew his gospel. We can also rely on the perennial relevancy of these events and ask how they might be applied and help us in our world today.
And so, this weekend at Sunday Mass, Catholics throughout the world will hear the inspiring story of the man born blind. In the context of the account, the Lord is outside of his home region of Galilee. Most of the Lord’s public ministry happened in Galilee. The fact that he has left and is in the prominent port cities of the province of Syria and Phoenicia is significant.
The Lord is going to everyone, not only the Israelites of his day. In light of the geography, it is no surprise that a deaf man with a speech impediment is brought to him. The symbolism is blaring: Those who are outside of the blessings of God are deaf and unable to speak. They are in pressing need of healing and of a proclamation of the gospel.
The Lord’s miracle is given through spittle, groaning, and a command. The Lord is engaging every part of the world around him. He wants the man to know of the presence and power of God. The command is declared, “Be opened!” And the man was cured. He was blessed with hearing and a clarity of speech. We can only imagine the euphoria, spiritual freedom, and joy that accompanied such a powerful sign of God’s goodness.
Be opened! The command still echoes through time.
And yet, there are still people and situations that are closed to the workings of divine favor. Darkness, spiritual deafness, and uncertain speech always threaten us. The enticements that come with remaining insular, the raw power that’s fueled by self-containment, and the false luxury of being unallied to others continue to attract and seek to draw all men and women into its web. To such a voice, the Lord commands: Be opened!
This lesson resonates in a thousand ways in the twists and turns of our lives today. Will we be open?
In our current ecclesial state of affairs, as bishops battle with bishops, as documents and personal credibility are ripped and torn apart, the Lord says to leadership, as he said in the towns of Tyre and Sidon – who were far from his grace – “Be opened!”
It is the sign of God’s presence, and of our willingness to follow him faithfully, that we (and our leadership) remain always – and in all ways – open to the light of truth, the clarity of speech, and the humility of acknowledging a need for mercy and healing.
To the degree that we imitate the man in today’s gospel reading, with all his vulnerability and meekness, is the degree to which the Lord will be able to heal us and heal our Church.