Let’s use our imaginations and create a background story for the reading from the Gospel of Mark (7:31-37). We’ll pretend that the deaf and mute man whom Jesus healed was named Moses, and that everyone called him Mo for short. We’ll say that Mo was the type of person who was constantly talking. He had an opinion on everything, even the most trivial subjects; he constantly shared his thoughts and feelings and ideas, and no one else could get in a word edgewise. If anyone made the mistake of asking him a simple question, Mo used it as an opportunity to start chattering away for hours; if by some miracle the other person managed to say something, Mo, ignored it and kept right on going. His wife and children gave up trying to talk to him; they just tuned him out. His friends stopped coming to see him; they loved Mo, but the problem was he just never listened. All the people in his village learned to turn and head in the other direction when they saw Mo coming; they didn’t want to get trapped in an endless monologue by a man who loved the sound of his own voice so much that he couldn’t stay quiet for even a minute.
Then one day Mo suffered a stroke, and could no longer speak or hear. He had to learn how to relate to the world using only his sight and his heart. It was a painful, difficult process, but Mo made the best of it. His family finally had a chance to talk to him, using sign language; Mo listened—because he had no choice—but he also discovered that they had worthwhile things to say. He began to pay attention to their gestures and expressions, and became very sensitive to their needs and feelings. Mo realized he had been missing so much, and he began truly listening with his heart; he no longer took his family or friends for granted. Mo came to understand how deeply he loved the people in his life; he couldn’t physically say the words “I love you,” but he found other ways to express them. Mo had truly undergone a conversion, a spiritual healing.
A few years later Jesus passed through the town one day, and Mo’s family and friends—who now loved and appreciated Mo more than ever—asked the Lord if He could do something for him. Jesus took him off by himself, though Mo didn’t understand what was happening. Suddenly he coughed, and felt a popping in his ears; then he heard a voice saying over and over, “Be opened; be opened; be opened.” Mo shouted with excitement, “I can hear! I can talk! It’s been so long! A miracle! I have so much to say! I have so much catching up to do!” In his joy and excitement, Mo kept on chattering for three whole minutes before he realized Jesus was still saying, “Be opened; be opened; be opened.” Mo wondered, “Wait a minute—why is He continuing to say that? I’m healed.” Mo stopped to think about it, and after a long pause, he realized what was going on. He said to Jesus, “Now I understand, Lord. What good is it to hear with listening, or to speak without ever really talking with someone?” Mo shrugged his shoulders sheepishly and said, “Old habits die hard.” Jesus smiled and said, “Let’s go. Your family and friends will be anxious to talk with you” (Jesus on the Mend, Andre Papineau, pp. 3-7). Having physical hearing and speech isn’t enough; we have to be open and responsive to God and to the people around us.
Sacred Scripture tells us that Jesus is capable of opening our minds and hearts, and that we in turn must be open to others. The prophet Isaiah (35:4-7) foretold that the coming Messiah, or Savior, would open the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf, and restore speech to the mute. The Gospel of Mark (7:31-37) shows one of the many instances in which Jesus fulfilled this prophecy. As Jesus’ followers, we must be open to the people around us, and St. James (2:1-5) gives us a practical example. We mustn’t judge by appearance; instead, we must remember that God can be present in, and speak through, anyone.
Jesus continually says to us, “Be opened.” Maybe this means giving up our tendency to judge others, and no longer being closed off to their true value as persons because of our preconceived ideas. Perhaps we need to be opened in the sense of not taking certain people for granted— particularly those within our own families. Being opened might mean trying to overcome our selfishness, and making efforts to see things from the other person’s point of view. Maybe God wants us to be more open and trusting in the sense of no longer putting off an important decision or a major project, or by being willing to look honestly at our own faults and at what we need to do to overcome them. Perhaps the openness we need involves having a little more urgency in our lives, and a little less complacency, or more of a willingness to sacrifice, and a little less concern with our personal comfort. Maybe when Jesus says to us, “Be opened,” He’s suggesting we should spend more time in prayer and quiet reflection, listening to God, and making more of an effort to grow in God’s grace. Perhaps Jesus simply wants us to open our eyes and hearts to the beauty around us and to the goodness of life.
Mo learned to listen, and to think of other people’s needs, instead of only his own. The physical healing he received had meaning only because he had earlier experienced a spiritual healing: a change of heart, a change of attitude. Quite often this is the type of healing people need most. Our sins and weaknesses, our fears and false desires, our faults and failures, have a way of taking over our hearts and clogging up the channels and pathways of God’s grace. Jesus looks at us with love, smiles while touching us gently, and says, “Be opened!”