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Twenty-Third Sunday of the Year

Tongues Sing for Joy

Those accompanying the afflicted man may have wanted his freeing from the 'demon' of deafness for his senses to be put in order. For the man born blind (Jn 9), the disciples themselves thought it natural to question,

Who sinned, this man or his parents?

Was not blindness punishment, and so what of his suffering -- penalty for his own sin or sins of forbears? Physical defect implied spiritual defect. So something punitive, needing riddance, may have been thought to underlie this man's impediments.

This connection is spelled out in Leviticus. No priest's son who was blind or lame or whatever it might be could exercise ministry. Inner unworthiness was manifested by his defect; it was that that excluded him from the altar. The disciples' enquiry in John 9 indicates the same mindset.

Jesus' actions in today's gospel read like an exorcism ritual. To point up his partial social exclusion the man is taken aside. Jesus inserts fingers into the deaf ears, and with spittle on to his tongue. He sighs, probably anguished in confronting evil. His command is given in Aramaic, with translation. So cleared ears and clear speech are the outward signs of a thorough healing. Impediments to social acceptance are no more. Joy abounds.

Impediments of discrimination affect those in good health. Weekly in a Barbados newspaper a woman with some disability promotes the cause of the 'differently abled', pleading that the 'whole' majority accept them as equals in the social inclusion they crave. Crucial for their sense of well-being are supportive attitudes, policies and behaviour from the majority whose comeliness they envy.

'Fit' people demonstrate that it is they, who benefit from literal sight and hearing, who are by prejudice and discrimination inwardly blind and deaf when they fail to heed the appeal for understanding and support signalled from those with physical (and mental and emotional) afflictions. The columnist has to address a good number of people handicapped in humanity.

On Palm Sunday the reading from Isaiah 50 depicts us as disciples whom God each morning wakens to be receptive, listeners first before speakers. If we are willing to be alert to the challenges presented to us by our own selves and by others, God opens, wakens, our ears. We re-enter the waking world as listening learners, attending, to grasp afresh how God calls on us to recuperate and sustain our own selves and our neighbours.

First, we need to clear ourselves of illusions about our personality, and be aware of the inner contortions thwarting well-being; as it were, the demons seeking possession. Undertaking to face up to the multiplicity of our malign attitudes, such as arrogance, disdain and self-seeking, and praying for the grace of purification: we may stretch the notion of exorcism and term this the approach to righteousness and wisdom and having a self that we may value. There is much to gain as indifference and animosity are transformed into having love to give.

We are likely to fall short of the whole person God wants us to be, but, if we want to be true and compassionate disciples, contrition will turn us around and help us forward. I took to heart the observation years ago that I tended to evade honest interpersonal exchange by inept humour. I was then affecting deafness, and my responses were at times only 'stammered'. I think that, though I now hear less clearly, inwardly I am more ready to take in what I am told, and give an unambiguous response.

The gospel depicts people perhaps activated by both concern and wariness. Our pilgrim way through life accompanies others. We have to be supportive, liberated from the attitudes of dismissal and discrimination I have referred to. Divisions arising from race and class, destitution, infirmity, marginalisation (homosexuals to the fore these days): we must desist from distancing, and meet our brothers and sisters, looking and behaving like us or not, who with us make up the world of diverse humanity which is radically one.

May it be so! To cite the first reading:

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed; the lame shall leap like a deer and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy.

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