Deaf and Dumb Spirit
If someone asked you to name the miracles that Christ performed in His earthly ministry, how would you answer? Certainly, one might think of Jesus raising Lazaros from the dead which we will celebrate two weeks from now, walking on water, changing water into wine, multiplying the loaves and feeding the 5,000, giving sight to the blind man, and helping the paralytic to walk again like we heard about two weeks ago. What other miracles did Jesus perform? Do we ever think about today’s miracle in the Gospel of the Fourth Sunday of Great and Holy Lent (Mark 9:17-31). Some might say what miracle? The miraculous healing of the deaf man who could not speak (vv.17,25)
In the very first verse we hear the man’s father approach Jesus and say, Teacher, I brought You my son, who has a mute spirit. [πνεῦμα ἄλαλον] (v.17). Later, we hear Jesus exorcize the demon saying, “Deaf and dumb spirit, [Τὸ ἄλαλον καὶ κωφὸν πνεῦμα] I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!” (v.25). Some people are offended by the word “dumb” because it has been misappropriated to imply that someone is of low intelligence, rather than its original meaning of being “mute” or unable to speak. So, please remember it’s true meaning when you hear it in the Scriptures.
But how important is this healing that Jesus performs today? If someone asked, “If you had to choose, would you rather be deaf or blind,” many people may prefer deafness. So, it may not be considered that severe of a handicap. After all, some might say a deaf person can learn to read lips or sign language and at least communicate but blindness is a much more severe challenge. This highlights the connection between deafness and being mute because in the ancient world, if you were deaf, you typically could not speak because you never heard sound and speech and therefore could not learn how to speak. Thus, Jesus’ physical healing of this person was significant.
But how does this passage connect with us today? Almost all of us can hear and can speak, except perhaps those of us who are not wearing our hearing aids. Church Fathers like St. Theophylact of Ochrid/Bulgaria (9th cent.) allegorically interpret the term “deaf” to mean “not wanting to hear the words of God.” This is what the demons do to us. They influence us to not deeply desire the life-giving words of our Lord. We have this problem when we don’t read the Scriptures daily. We have this problem when we arrive late, after the epistle and gospel readings in the liturgy. We have this problem when we think the priest’s sermon has nothing interesting or applicable to us.
Jesus explained this elsewhere:
13Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: 'Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, And seeing you will see and not perceive; 15For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.' 16"But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; (Matthew 13:13-16; Isaiah 6:9-10)
Yesterday we celebrated the great Feast of the Annunciation to the Theotokos, when the Archangel Gabriel came to her announcing the Good News, the God the Logos wished to become incarnate from her. And what did she do? She heard, she listened and she obeyed, and the world and the course of history was changed forever more.
The only time God tells us to be deaf is when other people are gossiping or slandering us. 13But I, like a deaf man, do not hear; And I am like a mute who does not open his mouth. (Psalm 38:13).
St. Theophylact says that the mute are those who are not able or are unwilling to teach others who need to be taught. We have this problem when we do not share the Gospel, the Good News, with others. Even just an invite to family, friends, acquaintances, and even strangers to come and see and hear the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church. The reality is we are always teaching by our words. The question is, “What are we teaching?” Are we teaching idle meaningless empty talk? Are we teaching gossip about others? Are we teaching how to slander people? Maybe it would be better if we were mute, unable to talk. The time has come for all Orthodox Christians to learn how to evangelize others. It’s not just the job of the priest or the bishop.
In conclusions, ask yourself, are you having difficulty with that deaf and dumb demon in your life? What are you going to do about it. Jesus gives us the solution in today’s Gospel. 28And when He had come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29So He said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.” Prayer and fasting can help us start hearing God’s word and start talking about His Good News. But they are not ends in and of themselves. We don’t pray to pray. We pray to seek God’s will and to do it. We don’t fast to fast. We fast to train ourselves for self-denial so we are better able to be obedient to God’s will. We pray and fast to unite ourselves to God. Or more correctly, we pray and fast in order to create the conditions by which God can unite with us. My brothers and sisters, let us pray more intensely at the all the worship services, especially these last two weeks of lent. Let us fast the fast designated by our Orthodox Faith more faithfully so that we may hear and speak the Word of God. Amen!