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Moving Beyond Appearances

Rev. Paul V. Redmond
Professor Emeritus
Mount St. Mary's University

\09-06-09) In late Spring on UTube the air quivered and even crackled with excitement as 47 year-old Susan Boyle drove an audience and three judges of "Britain's Got Talent" to a frenzy of applause. Only a few minutes before they had raised their eyebrows and even derided this contestant-the way she appeared.. . . and dared to comment that she hoped to become a leading, perhaps even legendary singer in England. But then Susan Boyle began to sing "I Dreamed a Dream" from the majestic musical, "Les Miserables". As she beautifully soared only a few phrases into the music the audience jumped to their feet and wildly honored a new star born before their ears. They could no longer hold their preconceived notions on the way she had had first come across to them. Appearances in Susan Boyle's case were solidly deceptive.

My question is: Do you and I sometimes or even regularly judge a person in terms of the way in which she or he appears to us. Are we willing to admit to ourselves that on occasion we allow appearances to deceive us? Do you and I find ourselves prejudiced in certain areas? Socially? Politically? Sexually? Prejudices are really unexamined opinions that creep into our lives. When we discover prejudices in our lives, do we examine them or do we simply give them a quick nod and toss them over our shoulders? Perhaps, as hard as it may be at times, we need to listen not only with our minds, but our hearts, as well, and look at ourselves and others with eyes of love. Jesus in looking at all others with eyes of love moved beyond appearances.

The evangelist, Mark, continues teaching us about Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem. For Mark, Jesus is a teacher, healer, miracle worker, and a suffering Messiah. Mark describes Jesus as showing us the way to respond to God with courage and hope-no matter what the hardships may be in our lives. Friends, travel with me now to the non-jewish, Gentile territory where Jesus and the young men and women disciples who flocked around him find themselves in their roundabout journey to Jerusalem. They are startled and begin to murmur as a deaf man with a speech impediment is brought to Jesus. We can easily imagine a few of them as saying: "Okay, we are in Gentile land-so we can't help running into a few Gentiles. But this particular one offends our Jewish sensibilities His physical handicaps render him unclean---we don't even want to touch him. Yet, there goes Jesus reaching out to the guy. He's moving against the customs and laws we've held onto since our childhood." The disciples and crowd did not see beyond appearances.

Jesus sees beyond appearances and welcomes the deaf man. Imagine the faith, hope and a certain amount of confusion that this deaf man experiences. He cannot speak for himself; he has to rely on the friends who brought him to this "powerful healer." Visualize the young Rabbi as embracing him. How else could Jesus meaningfully communicate with him? Usually Jesus heals by word alone. But here Mark the evangelist gives us a detailed description of a strange healing process. Jesus takes the man away from the crowd. Jesus puts his fingers into the man's ears and touches his saliva to the man's tongue. He then looks up to heaven to stress the divine source of his power. Jesus is teaching the man, step by step, to be open to an everdeepening encounter with him. He then utters an Aramaic word "Ephphatha" -"Be opened". Joyful astonishment ripples through the crowd as the healing takes place. They pay no attention to Jesus' order to be quiet. Our Gospel writer has the crowd recalling the powerful words which the prophet Isaiah spoke about the Messiah: "He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak". This is Mark's way of teaching us that the activities of the Messiah as proclaimed in prophecy by Isaiah centuries before Jesus are now being fulfilled by Jesus-the Savior who enables the deaf to hear, the blind to see, the lame to walk. On his journey to Jerusalem has been teaching the disciples about the Kingdom of God. He has expressed his teaching in stories that he calls "parables." In healing this Gentile Jesus is showing his Father's kingdom in action--- God working for the poor and showing his fatherly-motherly care, his preferential love for them. The healing miracles of Jesus are signs of God's kingdom in the person of Jesus.

In no way is Jesus a flashy miracle worker. We need to move beyond the act of healing that we see. He teaches us to be open to an ever deepening encounter with him…to grow in listening to his word, his teaching. . . step by step that we may to respond to him. In our developing relationship to Jesus as we struggle to live out his love for us by witnessing that love to others we need to ask for the grace to be changed into the image of the crucified and risen one. May we have an ongoing openness of mind and heart as we let him change us. May he grace us to fall ever more deeply in love with him.

Read other homilies by Father Paul