Throw Your Stick. A Homily for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Last week, we had a guest priest for Mission Sunday. He preached at all masses. Hence I didn’t provide a homily related to last week’s readings. Even so, some people asked for my thoughts on the Scriptures, which I provide below.
In last week’s Gospel from Mark, we read that, “People brought to [Jesus] a deaf man who had a speech impediment.” Notice some facts about the man. First, he could see and he could walk. He could write and he could read. They could explain to him the stories about Jesus using signs and gestures. They could indicate to him that Jesus was nearby. They could show the deaf man that they wanted to take him to see Jesus so he could be healed. Perhaps the deaf man indicated to them that he wanted to go and see Jesus for himself.
He had limited physical capabilities. He didn’t have everything, but he had something. His friends took that, and did something with what they had, and took that limited capacity to Jesus.
Jesus wasn’t a physician. He didn’t have access to penicillin. He had no surgical tools, no training in occupational or speech therapy. He also didn’t need them. Jesus, the divine Son of God, did not need physical props to work miracles. So what did he use? He used that, which was readily available… prayer, his fingers, his spit.
[A quick aside here about the whole spittle thing. Jewish commentary on the scriptures is called the Talmud. In the Talmud is a commentary that the spit of the first-born son had particular healing properties. For example, one Talmud commentary says, “A certain person once came before R. Hanina and said to him, ‘I am sure that this man is firstborn’. R. Hanina said to him, ‘How do you know?’ — The person replied to him: ‘Because when people came to his father, he used to say to them: “Go to my son Shikhath, who is firstborn and his saliva heals’. Might he not have been the firstborn of his mother only [but not of his father]?” Thus, there is a tradition that the saliva of the firstborn of a father heals, but that of the firstborn of a mother does not heal. See a fuller commentary on this topic on my website.]
- Near the Decapolis, some people brought Jesus a deaf man who could hardly talk. Jesus healed the man, of course, but in an interesting manner: “Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue” (Mark 7:33).
- In the town of Bethsaida, Jesus healed a blind man. Again, the miracle was preceded by spitting: “He . . . spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him” (Mark 8:23).
- To heal a man born blind, Jesus “spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes” (John 9:6).
So, people of that day had a high view of saliva’s healing properties. Jesus’ use of mud in John 9 perhaps was meant to parallel God’s original creation of man, “The LORD God formed the man from the dust (or mud) of the ground.” So perhaps Jesus combined these two in order to manifest his healing properties.
Notice another important detail. In each miracle, Jesus never healed the same way twice. The variety of methods used by the Lord eliminated confidence in any one technique or modus operandi. That could have led people to concentrate on that “technique” in a superstitious sort of way. The key to each miracle is that each person came to – or was brought to – Christ first. Then Christ did the healing. Coming or going to Christ for healing was the common denominator. How Jesus did it was his business.
A third point involves the aspect that sometimes Jesus does not heal us, or he seems to withhold his healing for a time. Why would Jesus do this? One preacher says that God does this, “Because from pain, comes purpose. From misery comes mission. Examine 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.” Sometimes God allows difficulties to remain in our lives. He does this to train us. He does this to give us new skills that God will employ later. When we experience challenges in life, we learn how to receive consolation from other people around us. Later, we meet someone else, who is going through the same situation, that we experienced before. Then we can “give them the same consolation, and support and help that we received previously. “The “mess” turns into the message.”
Do you currently find yourself in a difficult situation? Are you not sure what to do next? The same questions that God once asked Moses – he now asks you, “What do you hold in your hand?” (Exodus 4:2) Moses replied, “A stick.” He might have thought, “So what. What can I do with a stick?” Answer: nothing. But bring the stick to God and what happens? What can you do with the stick then? Part oceans. Turn it into a serpent that devours other snakes. Turn water into blood. Conquer armies. Lead an entire nation for decades to a better place. Quite a stick!
Are you in a difficult place? “What do you have in your hand?” Some spit? A little mud? What does your “stick” look like? “Thus says the LORD: Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense, he comes to save you. The eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared.” (Isaiah 35:5)
Start with your stick. Give it to God. See what he does with it and with you. Then – when it all works out for good – tell others.