TURNING THE TABLE ON GOD (Mark 7:31-37): Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (06 September 2009)
I’ve been thinking about Cristy these days. I don’t think I will ever forget what I saw when I visited her the other day in the hospital. I’ve been warned about her, but I was shocked anyway. She wasn’t at all the Cristy I knew. Her cancer had ravaged her body: All skin and bones, she stared at me with one eye, the other forced shut by the growing tumor in her brain.
When I reached for her hand, she clutched mine with what remaining strength she had, and because she could no longer speak, she could only plead with her eyes and her groans. It was the saddest, most painful sound.
I didn’t know what to say. How do you offer consolation to someone who is experiencing a suffering you don’t understand? Words failed me. The only thing I could do was assure her of my prayers. But as I did this, I also heard another voice inside asking: “Why, Lord? Why have our prayers gone unanswered?” That morning I left Cristy’s hospital room helpless and heartbroken.
Forgive me, Lord, but since then I’ve been thinking: I think I understand why your critics sometimes complain that you’re deaf and mute. Times like this, you don’t seem to hear our prayers. And the times we most need to hear you speak are the times you seem to fall most silent. I don’t know why you do it. It’s easy to explain this away if it’s treated as a theological subject, but when one sees pain up close…
And of course, just to complicate my life, as you sometimes do, today’s Gospel story has to be about the healing of a deaf and mute–just when I’ve been wondering about the very same things about you!
The strange part is, you don’t do a quick cure here as you usually do in other healing stories. You know that you could have simply said, “Your sins are forgiven”–which,much to the chagrin of your heresy-obsessed enemies, is your usual formula when you heal paralytics and the like. Not this time though. You take the man away from the crowd and then heal him in a most human way: by touching him–his ears and tongue.
While all this goes on, I can’t help but wonder: Are you trying to tell me something? Are you trying to open my ears as well? Who’s being deaf and mute here? I couldn’t hear you as I stood before Cristy, and I certainly felt like I had a speech impediment.
There’s a term in psychology for all this: Projection. “Projection” refers to the unconscious act of denying something about ourselves by ascribing it to something or someone else. Maybe I’ve been projecting all along. Maybe I’ve been turning the table on you. As it turns out, now I suspect that I’m the one who can’t hear you, and I’m the one with the speech impediment.
Lord, what you do with the man in the story is instructive. You take him away from the noise of the crowd. And there alone with him, you insert your fingers into his ears and command them to open up. No wonder I have been unable to hear you, much less offer any word of consolation to Cristy. I haven’t allowed you to take me away with you, far from the madness of my world.
Let me steal away with you, Lord. Let me hear you–not the easy platitudes that explain your mysteries away, but the sometimes painful and bewildering truths that deepen your mysteries. Touch my tongue, and take away my every speech impediment–whatever keeps me from true prayer, from opening my heart to you, and giving voice to its innermost hopes and dreams, deepest fears and anxieties, so that I may bring your consolation to those who most need it. Amen.
How about a Quick Prayer here?