By Canon Gerry Conroy
One of the recurring themes in Mark’s Gospel is the failure of so many people, including the disciples, to fully grasp who Jesus was and the direction and meaning of his life. We could read that as a criticism of people, especially the Apostles, the supposed leaders of the Christian community, but I don’t think that is the point of Mark putting before us this less than admirable aspect of the disciples and people in general, rather I think it is meant to console us and encourage us in our own journey of discipleship. After all we too, like the disciples, like many of the people in the Gospels don’t always fully understand what Jesus is saying or doing and we aren’t always the best adverts for discipleship.
The Gospel story today of Christ healing the deaf man is a good example of a story that is told to challenge us but also at the same time to encourage us to keep trying, because the temptation for all of us is to limit God and his goodness, to make him fit the measure of our goodness rather than striving to make us fit the measure of his goodness.
On the one hand the story seems simply what we might call a fulfilment story: Jesus fulfils the prophecy of Isaiah that we heard in the first reading which, among other signs of the Messiah, speaks of the ears of the deaf being unsealed and the tongues of the dumb singing for joy. For those who have ears to hear, Jesus is being presented as the long promised saviour. But there is an added aspect to this story as St Mark tells it: this whole episode takes place in a largely pagan territory after his own people had not accepted Jesus despite all he had done and taught. And in his Gospel, Mark emphasises his point by later telling us that it is a pagan Centurion who, standing in front of the cross, is the first to affirm his belief in Jesus as Son of God.
What is St Mark trying to get us to realise by presenting the story to us in this way? Many Jews were willing to accept Jesus as the Messiah they had been waiting for, but to go beyond this, to accept his divinity, to accept the cross or the resurrection; it was too difficult for them to accept his teaching on many things because it went beyond their expectations and was too challenging.
That is where the challenge can lie for us as well. Our expectations, our comprehension of God and Jesus are often greatly influenced by the world around us and the world round us is slow to believe in miracles let alone God, and even slower to believe that God would make himself so readily available to us as he did in Christ – as he does in Christ. Plus the fact that what he asks of us is not always the easiest path through life, or the path most often taken; it can seem isolating from the world and that we know is difficult. But there is also comfort in this story we are given because in it we see that no one who turns to him is rejected by Christ, no one is unsuitable to hear the Good News, no mistake or sin we have made in the past is so great as to be unforgivable. All who are seeking for the truth in life can find it in him and become rich in faith and hope and love and heirs to the Kingdom of God.