Touched by God
Twenty-Third Sunday of the Year. Fr Martin Ganeri preaches on the physical nature of the sacramental life.
The account of the healing of the deaf and dumb man in the Gospel is very graphic and dramatic. Often Christ heals through a simple word of command. In the healing of the deaf and dumb man, however, Christ puts his fingers into his ears and puts his spittle onto his tongue, before commanding him to be healed.
By its sheer physicality this healing makes very real for us the fact of the bodily Incarnation of the Son of God. Christ is God made present for the people of his time as a human being, a man very much of flesh and blood, and he interacted with other human beings of flesh and blood in very physical ways. The graphic details of the healing of the deaf and dumb man emphasize and make very evident that the incarnate Son of God is a real physical human being. We even have recorded the very words Christ spoke, the Aramaic word, ‘Ephphatha’ ‘Be opened,’ preserved across all the centuries for us.
This particular healing miracle also makes clear that Christ is the longed-for Messiah, who brings in a new age, a time of deliverance, of freedom from bondage, a time of restoration. The healing of the deaf and dumb man points us to the prophecies of Isaiah, which proclaim a return of God’s people from Exile, a time of healing and restoration, of plenty and of a new life with God and with each other. So, Christ’s healing of the deaf and dumb man is a sign that in Christ and in what Christ does this new age is coming to be a reality. Through Christ human beings can have deliverance and a restored life.
Now, the actions of Christ in the healing of the deaf and dumb man, have also been made a part of the rite of Baptism that we have today, although they are not always used. Just after the baptism with water, the rite says that the priest may do the following:
The celebrant touches the ears and mouth of the child with his thumb, saying, “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.”
These words point us to the fact that it is through Baptism and the other sacraments that we ourselves enter into the salvation that the healing of the deaf and dumb man represented. The sacraments are themselves very physical things; they use physical elements like water, bread and wine, oil, as well as words and gestures, and so they enable us to have a bodily, physical encounter with Christ, just as the deaf and dumb man came into very physical contact with Christ.
The sacraments are the way in which the new age of deliverance and restoration that Christ brings about can become a reality now for us. The sacraments give us the deliverance and the new life that Christ offers to all human beings, to all God’s people. Baptism itself washes off out sin, bringing a death to sin and the beginning of the new life we have as members of Christ’s mystical body, the Church. After Baptism, sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist take us further into this new life and give us the opportunity to live the life of charity. Furthermore, the sacraments of confession and of anointing help us overcome spiritual and physical shortcomings, restoring us back to life.
In the rite of baptism, the priest says, ‘The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith.’ In the baptism of any infant we look, of course, to the day when the child will simply be able to understand and speak any words. But, through the action and power of the sacraments, we also look forward, children and adults alike, to being made able to receive the Word that is Christ more fully into the reality of our lives, as they are shaped by the Word. Through the power of the sacraments, we also hope that our lives will become such that we do proclaim the faith in how we live and in what we say, so that, through the witness of our lives, others can themselves come into touch with Christ and see and find in him the possibility of deliverance and restoration, the realisation of all that they might hope and long for.