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Glancing Thoughts
23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Year B
September 5, 2021
Eleonore Stump
Being Able to Hear

In the Gospel Reading, Jesus does a miracle: a man who was deaf and impaired in speech becomes able to hear and to speak plainly. But the way in which Jesus performs the miracle seems undignified or even silly. Jesus puts his fingers in the man’s ears and his spit on the man’s tongue. Before the man’s ears are opened to hear, Jesus looks up to heaven, he groans, and he says “Be opened!”

What happened to the elegant kind of miracle where Jesus just says a word and a person is healed? Why this show, which looks embarrassing for Jesus?

Jesus looks up to heaven to show the deaf man the source of Jesus’ power.

The answer lies in the question. What Jesus does is literally a silent show. It has to be. Jesus is trying to communicate with someone who can’t hear. In other cases, before Jesus does a miracle, Jesus talks to the person for whom the miracle will be done. In this case, he does charades.

His charade begins by letting the deaf man know that Jesus is putting a part of himself into the deaf man—his fingers into the deaf man’s ears, his spit into the deaf man’s mouth. By this means, Jesus invites the deaf man to accept Jesus into himself—literally. And then Jesus looks up to heaven to show the deaf man the source of Jesus’ power. It doesn’t come from some magic in Jesus’ fingers or spittle. It comes from God, whose power is in Jesus, who is in the deaf man, by means of this charade

Even the groaning and the speech of Jesus to the deaf man make sense if we think of them in this way. First, the deaf man sees Jesus open his mouth to make the inarticulate sound of groaning. This deaf man doesn’t speak, but even those made mute by deafness can groan. In groaning, Jesus joins the deaf man, who can see Jesus groaning even if he can’t hear him.

And then the deaf man sees Jesus speaking an articulate word to him, to the man who cannot hear. In doing this, Jesus is inviting the deaf man to trust in Jesus, to choose to accept the miracle—to choose to hear the word that Jesus speaks to him.

And so Jesus humbles himself to share the limitations of this one deaf man. By undignified dumb show, the love of the Lord heals the deaf man’s soul as well as his ears. Let us be humble enough to hear the love of the Lord in this story.

Eleonore Stump

Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University

Art by Martin Erspamer, OSB
from Religious Clip Art for the Liturgical Year (A, B, and C). This art may be reproduced only by parishes who purchase the collection in book or CD-ROM form. For more information go