The readings for the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time read loud and clear, to those who understand that there are no unnecessary words in the dedicated writings. The Gospel reading is the healing of the deaf man, exactly one chapter before the healing of the blind man. In both stories Jesus uses the same technique for healing. He spits.
The reason for this becomes clear when we realize that the Hebrew and Aramaic word for spit, רִירוalso means to be moist, saturated, refreshing, delightful, and intoxicated. What is present in these stories is an allusion to the Eucharist, the blood of Christ.
There are also some fine points of doctrine Jesus tries to teach us with the use of this technique. First, it is the important of being moist, soft, kind, caring. Second, is the importance of noticing how the presenting problem is that he is both deaf and mute. Most people who are deaf are also mute. If they cannot hear, how can they learn to speak properly? If people are not able to hear, how can they hear their own voice to moderate timber, pitch, and volume? Most important, if people cannot hear, how can they learn the words, the language of other people? How can people have meaningful dialogue with another if they do not hear other people?
In our first reading we see the same thing. Isaiah relates how people see first, then their ears open, and only then are they able to speak. It is not the deaf man who is deaf, and it is not the blind man who is blind. The sighted people and those who hear, but do not listen are blind and deaf. We see this in chapter 8, with the story of the blind man. In this story, the healing is intentionally a two step process. The first time the blind man complains the people he now sees look like walking trees. The Hebrew word for tree is עֵץand the Hebrew word for a counselor, an old stodgy person who gave up his humanity to be a professional עֵץ is. The first time Jesus heals the blind man he only sees the outside of the person. They look like counselors. He only sees their exterior. The second time, he sees them as real people with hopes and fears, as people made in the image of God, yet having original sin.
In the healing of the deaf mute, Jesus only heals his deafness. His deformity of speech disappears when he learns to listen, listening with the heart to those around him. When we as a society learn to do the same as the blind and the deaf man, we will all leap like a stag, we will all sing like the deaf. We will all see streams as they burst out into the desert sand, and rivers in the steppe. We will all see the burning sands as they transform into pools, and the thirsty ground as it springs life giving water.
Of course, with St. James, we will no longer see the gold rings and fine clothes as they enter into our humble assembly. We will no longer see the shabby clothes as they hang on the poor man. We will see the poor man, and then as a man, created in the image of God.
God, through us will secure justice for the oppressed, give bread to the hungry and set prisoners free; God, through us, will give sight to the blind, raise up those who are bowed and loves the charitable. God, through us will protect the resident alien, Hispanic, Arabic, Jewish, Oriental, and European. God through us, will come to the aid of the orphan and widow. God, through us, will thwart the way of the Russia/those who think themselves first. God, through us will say:
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp! Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”