The basis of this homily is from a reflection by ‘a Dominican nun’ (no name given) published in the periodical ‘Scripture in Church’.
One of the great social changes in our time is how people can communicate with each other without ever meeting one another. People now have ‘friends’ without them ever actually meeting each other face-to-face. And while many can boast about the number of ‘friends’ they can have on Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat, or boast about the number of followers on Twitter, it is what one might call ‘connection at a distance’ and is not the same as having a personal and real encounter with another person.
The meeting that takes place in today’s Gospel between Jesus and a man who had no speech or hearing is one of a personal, face-to-face encounter. Jesus could have responded to the request by the man’s friends by simply issuing a word or command from a distance for the man to be healed. After all, he’d only been asked to do was to lay a hand upon him. However, Jesus went beyond this by taking the man aside, away from the crowd, and, in a private one-to-one encounter, put his fingers into the man’s ears and touched his tongue with saliva.
This was an extraordinary thing for Jesus to do and not just because saliva was used. In those ancient times, saliva was believed to possess healing properties. Greek and Jewish healers were familiar with using saliva in their healing rituals. No, what was extraordinary was the intense personal and intimate nature of the meeting between these two men; so too the attention Jesus gave to the man’s condition and his need for privacy, and the divine power Jesus summoned as he touched and healed the person.
For this man, this personal encounter transformed his life. This is why and how he came to believe in Jesus.
If we have never had a personal encounter of sorts with Jesus, then it is difficult for us to be part of what he called the ‘kingdom’ or ‘reign’ of God – i.e. the community he founded of followers who had a personal encounter with him. It’s my guess that many of us who are cradle Catholics may never had such an experience. We may believe in God and do our best every day to follow the teaching of Jesus – but to have had an ‘encounter’ with him that transformed our lives, as it transformed the life of the deaf mute, that is something else!
In his writings, Pope Francis has called our attention to the need for this kind of relationship with Jesus:
I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. ~ Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, no. 3
Holy Name, Jesmond
9 September 2018