The Physical Touch
Friday February 11, 2022
Fifth Week of Ordinary Time
by Fr. David M. Knight
When Jesus left Tyre he went north around the Sea of Galilee into the province of Decapolis, which was also Gentile territory. There some people “brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him.”
Jesus must have thought this ironic. He was still oppressed by the fact that the leaders of his own people were deliberately deaf to what he had to say. And now some people wanted him to cure physical deafness.
He did it, of course. But he first “took the man aside in private, away from the crowd.” He didn’t want to put on a miracle show for the spectators.
Then he got very physical. He “put his fingers into the man’s ears, spat [on his finger] and touched his tongue.” Frankly, we find this a little off-putting in our super-sanitized society. A minor note of the Good News here is that Jesus is not as hung up about the body as we are, and not as afraid of physical contact with strangers. But the deeper meaning is symbolic. Jesus didn’t need physical touch or some chemical transfer through saliva to heal, any more than he needs the water, oil, chrism, bread and wine of the sacraments to give grace. But he is a human Savior, and he interacts with us in human ways, through human means of communication. That is important. In Christianity “purely spiritual” interactions with God are possible and frequent, but not typical. The typically Christian way is through human words, gestures and contact.
The people had only asked Jesus to “lay his hand” on the deaf man. This was not a gesture used for healing in the Old Testament, but some assumed Jesus had an “almost magical healing power that operated automatically on contact with him” (Jerome Biblical Commentary on 5:23,30). Jesus countered this by giving specific meaning to his touches. What was blocking his power to save was the chosen deafness of his people. So he put his fingers into the deaf man’s ears to show they are the channels for his life-giving words. It is as if he was saying that if we won’t listen, there is very little Jesus can do for us!
Often, people can’t speak because they can’t hear. And our spiritual response to God depends on our receptivity to his voice. In making the “saliva connection” between his mouth and the deaf man’s, Jesus shows that our only life-giving responses are the words we speak in union with him speaking within us by the grace of our union with him.
Initiative: Open your ears. Read and reflect on God’s word. Take it seriously.
Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry