Turning the Tables on God – Johnny Go, SJ

Mark 7:31-37, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

I’ve been thinking about Cristy these days.  I don’t think I will ever forget what I saw when I last visited her in the hospital.  I had 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, but since then I’ve been thinking:  I think I understand why His critics complain that God is deaf and mute.  Times like this, God doesn’t seem to hear our prayers.  And the times we most need to hear Him speak are the times He seems to fall most silent.  I don’t know why He does 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 God sometimes does, 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 God!

The strange part is, the Lord doesn’t perform a quick cure here as he usually does in other healing stories.  He knows that he could have simply said, “Your sins are forgiven”–which,much to the chagrin of his heresy-obsessed enemies, is his usual formula when he heals paralytics and the like.  Not this time though.  He takes the man away from the crowd and then heals him in a most human way:  by touching him, his ears and tongue.

While all this goes on, I can’t help but wonder:  Is the Lord trying to tell me something?  Is he trying to open my ears as well? Who’s being deaf and mute here?  I couldn’t hear him as I stood before Cristy, and I certainly felt like I was suffering from 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 God.  As it turns out, now I suspect that I’m the one who can’t hear him, and I’m the one with the speech impediment.

What the Lord does with the man in the story is instructive.  He takes him away from the noise of the crowd.  And there alone with him, he inserts his fingers into his ears and commands them to open up.  No wonder I have been unable to hear the Lord, much less offer any word of consolation to Cristy.  I haven’t allowed him to take me away with him, even briefly, far from the madness of my world.

Let me steal away with the Lord.  Let me listen to him and try to hear him–not the easy platitudes that explains his mysteries away, but the sometimes painful and bewildering truths that deepen the mysteries.  Touch my tongue, and take away every speech impediment–whatever keeps me from true prayer, from opening my heart to the Lord, and giving voice to its innermost hopes and dreams, deepest fears and anxieties, so that I may bring His consolation to those who most need it.  Amen.

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