HOMILY: Leaving Our Comfort Zones

Fr. Brian Zumbrum’s homilies and reflections are posted weekly at Leaven in the World prior to a given Sunday. To see the archive of all his posts, just click hereSalesian Sermons

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time | September 5/6, 2015

PROTIP: Before reading on, be sure to take a look at the Sunday readings here. This homily focuses on the Gospel reading.

So full disclosure, I used to find this Gospel somewhat perplexing and even a tad creepy.

I mean here you have Jesus touching this man’s tongue with his own spit and putting his fingers in the man’s ears.

It seems so unnecessary.  Throughout the Gospels we see Jesus heal with just a word.  Sometimes Jesus is not even with the person that he heals.  So why change now?

Why is this particular encounter so prolonged, so intimate, so messy?

Now I have read my commentaries and studied my Scripture in an attempt to answer this elusive question, but none of the explanations seemed sufficient.  It appeared that something was missing in the analysis.

And then one day, I found my answer.

And it came in a random conversation with a brother of mine, Fr. Mike Depcik.

Fr. Mike is an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales and he is also deaf.  In fact he is one of the few priests who are deaf in the world.

Which is why his perspective on this gospel is fascinating.

For in our conversation, Fr. Mike provided me with a new set of lens that changed my way of viewing this miracle.  

When Jesus leads the man away from the crowd, Fr. Mike sees Jesus purposefully shielding this man from becoming a spectacle.  

This miracle would not be for show.  

It would not serve to advance a cause or further a career.  

It would be for this man and for him alone.

When Jesus touched the man’s ears and tongue, Fr. Mike sees Jesus using the sense of touch to communicate what cannot be spoken in words.  That this man is a beloved child of God with his own identity, his own hopes and dreams, his own future.  

No longer would others speak for him.  

No longer would others decide his fate.

In these gestures, Jesus was giving this man the opportunity to make his own decision.  He now knew what Jesus was going to do.  Did he still want to be healed?

And when Jesus used the word Ephphatha, Fr. Mike sees Jesus using a word that is easy to lip-read.  A word that could be understood by the one who would be healed by its power.

See, Fr. Mike helped me to see this rather simple truth.  This Gospel was so intimate and messy because the man who was deaf needed it to be.

He needed this encounter to find the healing, the dignity, the reconciliation that he sought.

And in his story, we are given a model in our own call to emulate Christ on the road to discipleship.

My friends, when we look at the big picture, we can be quickly overwhelmed by the crises that seem to assail us from every side.

We have an educational system that is failing too many of our children.

We have an economic system that is leaving to many behind in poverty and homelessness.

We have a nationwide addiction to drugs and alcohol, guns and violence.

We have a nation still struggling to address a legacy of prejudice that divides us along lines based on race and gender, class and political party, religion and sexuality.

Let’s be honest.  Some of us have become apathetic about it all.  Others spend countless hours debating solutions while implementing none of them.  And many of us can just feel powerless to change it at all.

But Jesus shows us another way.  Jesus did not try to solve every problem.  Instead, he kept his eyes open, his ears open, and his heart open for where God was leading him.  To who God was leading him.

And in turn we must do the same.  

We must be open to who God is leading us to build a relationship with, knowing that it may come at a cost.

If we are worried about our youth, we need to risk getting involved with our troubled nephew or granddaughter who does not have the structure, the opportunities or the love that they need.

If we are worried about the poor, we need to risk getting involved with our neighbor who struggles to pay her bills or the homeless man who sits on the corner.  We need to risk inviting them to dinner or sitting with them on their corner to share a sandwich and a story.

If we are troubled by our national addictions, we need to risk helping our friend, our co-worker or our cousin break free of these chains.  We need to risk being misunderstood or feared.  We need to be willing to forgive without waiting for an apology.  We need to be willing to show up at the funeral of the child gunned down in a drive-by simply because he is our sister or brother in Christ.

If we are pained by the divisions wrought by prejudice, ignorance and fear, we need to forge relationships that transcend these divisions.  We need to break bread with those who do not look like us, who do not pray like us, who do not see the world as we do.  We need to listen more and talk less.  We need to seek to understand and we need to reserve judgement.  We need to risk our own comfort zones for the sake of the future that we envision.

Yes, my friends, it will be personal.  Yes, it will be prolonged.  And yes, it will be messy.

But who knows, we too may just work a miracle in the process.

May God be Praised.

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