“Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.”
“The Lord gives sight to the blind;
the Lord raises up those who were bowed down.”
The miracles mentioned in this Sunday’s Scripture – in Isaiah 35 and Psalm 146 – are good things, and certainly something to rejoice over. However, one can’t help wondering about the personhood and individuality of those who are healed. Yes, it is great that they are healed, but is this all they are – mere impersonal ciphers paraded around for the glory of an all-powerful Lord? Yes, the healing power of God is good, and indeed worthy to be praised, but these initial passages might make us wonder whether God in fact cares. Yes, he can heal – both physically and spiritually – but is there an authenticity and personal concern in such healing, or is it mere spectacle?
What I am trying to get at is that the real question around healing is not whether it can or does happen. It both can and does. The real question is whether it reduces those who experience it to something less than a person, a mere condition existing to let the divinity “show his stuff.” Such an interpretation would mean these passages inadvertently show the exact opposite of what they here are trying to communicate; whereas they would portray the Lord as a great healer, they perhaps risk suggesting he is rather a great magician turning human lives into trophies.
Fortunately, however, we are given the gospel in these readings as a hermeneutic through which to interpret such healing, and we find in it that, far from being a worker of impersonal spectacles, Christ is interested in the intimacy and even incommunicability of what happens when he touches us. Notice how the healed man is treated by the crowd. They bring him to Christ as though he were an object. And even when they talk about the healing afterward, they refer to “the deaf” and “the mute,” as though there were nothing more to the man. For the crowd, the man himself is little more than a spectacle, an object on which they want to see Christ enact his power.
But notice Christ’s resistance to this attitude. He draws the man away from the crowd. And then he heals him through touch, a groan, a word, and an exchange of bodily fluids, means that have all the messy intimacy of sacramentality. Further, the man speaks – yet we are not even told what his words after the healing are. Clearly, this was a word between a man and his maker, not to be shouted or bandied about by the crowds, and the gospel writer’s sensitivity in not reporting these words accords well with the sense of privacy that Christ himself accords to this miracle. All this to say that, in taking this man away from the madding crowd, healing him intimately, and preserving this intimacy such that the man’s first words are kept secret, Christ encounters this person as a person, and not a mere victory token to be trotted about in praise of His name. Indeed, he arguably foresees the possibility of such triumphalism and tries to prevent it, directing those with him “not to tell anyone.” Thus, the gospel reveals to us good news; in case the earlier passages led us to think that God was just out for his own glory and merely using healed humans as trophies, we are shown in the gospel how Christ’s way with humans is the exact opposite of that – he resists the proclamation of the proud, but gives grace in humility.
Indeed, in this gospel I can’t help seeing something of my own spiritual journey as well. Growing up Evangelical, one of the most important things we were supposed to do was to witness for Christ, that is, testify to the miracles that he has done – and indeed, even as tired Catholics, we are still called to this to an extent. However, as seen in the interaction between today’s readings, there are ways of testifying to miracles that, having lost their Christological center, can in fact present God as a mere magician using humans for the sake of spectacles. Furthermore, there are things at the center of miracles that, because of their sheer intimacy, are perhaps best left unrecorded lest they be profaned by the crowds. Since my days in Evangelicalism, I have along these lines learned that, paradoxically, shouting about miracles is a sure way to obscure them, while dwelling with them in patient silence can open up times and opportunities to share them with others as necessary. If I say less about God now, it is because I have learned that being with Him is in many instances a secret too complex to tell – and silence too is its own form of speech, the love-language of God.
Karl Persson is Assistant Professor of Literature at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Barry’s Bay, Ontario. His interests include mentoring students, doing research on premodern wisdom literature, and encouraging discussion of mental illness in Christian communities.