The key to cultural integration is language. Only when we can hear and understand what is spoken to us, and when we can articulate with clarity our own thoughts, is communication possible. From proper communication arises the possibility of relationship. Shared language connects. Genuine relationship is very difficult when I can neither speak to the other nor receive what is spoken to me.
The importance of language for relationships helps us appreciate the great gift given by Jesus to the deaf-mute man in yesterday's Gospel passage from Saint Mark (Mark 7:31-37). Unable either to hear or to speak any language at all, his capacity for relationship with others was seriously compromised. By restoring both his hearing and speech, Jesus restored him to the possibility of relationship with others.
Yet the import of this episode extends far beyond the man's physical healing. According to Isaiah (35:4-7), the world would know the presence of its saviour when "the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy." By healing the deaf-mute man, Jesus is revealing himself as the one promised by God to come with the gift of salvation. Giving to the man the gift of relationship with others, Jesus shows that he has come to restore all of humanity to right relationship with God!
Here we see the connection between the deaf-mute man and ourselves. We have grown deaf in many ways to the Word of God. This deafness is not natural but willful. There are a multiplicity of voices present today in society, all clamouring for our attention. We allow ourselves to become deaf to God when we choose to listen to others instead. This deafness to God closes our ears to the voices of those through whom God speaks: the voice of the Church; of the poor; of the hungry, of the oppressed. Then we can become like those criticised by Saint James (2:1-5) for showing preference, even in Church (!), to the rich over the needy.
Furthermore, this deafness binds our tongues and renders us mute. For the naturally deaf, the inability to hear sounds makes it very difficult to form them. When our ears, hearts and minds are closed to the message of God's love and mercy, we cannot clearly proclaim it to others. This is a great tragedy, because our world needs this message and, therefore, requires us to proclaim it with both clarity and conviction.
The Lord wants to heal our deafness and free our tongues so that we might speak that language which transcends all cultural difference: the language of faith. This is the language that truly unites. May we learn to hear and speak it well!