The Paralympics concluding this Sunday in Tokyo have been a great demonstration of skill, courage and determination. To watch the telecast is to be drawn into the twin emotions of pride and appreciation at what our Australian athletes have achieved.
Yet, we have to admit, this admiration is only a recent phenomenon. Our society’s attitude toward those with physical or mental conditions have certainly evolved down through the centuries. In fact, it has only been in very recent times that we have begun to take seriously the inclusion of those with physical or mental impairment into our mainstream society.
I think the Paralympics are a great example of contemporary society’s journey of learning to value people for who they are and what they can do rather than devalue them for what they are not and what they cannot do. Discrimination still exists and the journey continues!
We have come a long way from the world of the Gospel where people understood physical or mental disorders as some form of punishment. Some communities attributed certain conditions to the work of demons. Others believed that human sin was responsible for physical or mental illness – it was the sin of the parents that caused the child to be deformed!
That is the backdrop for this weekend’s Gospel miracle story. A deaf man who longed to be freed of his affliction is healed by Jesus.
It might be hard to transport ourselves back to the time of the scriptures and imagine the world of the deaf man of today’s gospel. But perhaps we can get a glimpse of his contemporises! Most of us wake to the sound of an alarm clock or the clock radio, a deaf person doesn’t! In their silent world, the radio is useless, the TV is a bland experience, the telephone is impractical and communication is always difficult. Imagine for a moment a world where you are always anxious because you never know if someone is approaching you from behind or never hearing announcements at public places, train stations or events.
Trying to understand the world of the physically deaf-mute helps us get in contact with the world of the spirituality deaf-mute. The spiritually deaf is the person who can’t or won’t hear the voice of God and the invitation and challenge that accompanies that voice. If we are honest with ourselves we will admit that all of us, at some time, fall into this category. Spiritually we live in a silent world, cut off from the voice which calls us to life and speaks the words of mercy and forgiveness.
The experience of the deaf mute in today’s Gospel serves each one of us with both a reminder and a challenge. The reminder is that Jesus always has the power to heal us from our own particular spiritual deafness. For each of us it will be different but for each of us the invitation remains the same! At the same time let us not be afraid to imitate the deaf person of today’s Gospel who heard the words of Jesus Ephphatha! be opened and embraced that brave new world that God offered him with all its potential and promise!
Fr Peter Brannelly