When you move to a new place it can take a while to find your feet. This morning I helped some friends to move house, and although it was a short move they will have to rethink where to shop, how to get their children to school, and a whole host of things they could previously take for granted. After a few weeks the streets surrounding their home will begin to have that feel of familiarity: that’s where we took the youngest child to the doctor, that’s our favourite bakery. The world forms around our lives: our hopes and desires, our fears and joys.
Does this imply that the world is no bigger than our desires? In one sense the answer is yes. That which I cannot love, I cannot truly know. A woman might know that her husband is an excellent cook, and love this about him, but this is not knowing him or loving him. Love which stops short of the fullness of reality is not true love. Nor is it true to our desires.
In last week’s Gospel (Mark 7:21-23) we heard Jesus telling the people that it is not what goes into a person from outside that makes them unclean, but what emerges within the heart. It is important to see here that Jesus is not saying that human desire in itself is evil, but desire that falls short of the measure of reality. Theft is a disordered desire to take something for ourselves, which falls short of the measure of justice. We see the thing that we want and are blinded to the right of the person we steal from. The victim is less than human for us, and the more we steal the less human the victims become, until our desires lose all connection with reality.
So is the world no bigger than our desires? You may have noticed that in answering this question I began to talk about reality, and how our desires are open to reality. Our world is shaped around our lives, but it is also true to say that our lives are shaped through our encounter with the world. The more we love our friends the closer we come to know them, and the closer we know them the more we love them.
In today’s Gospel (Mark 7:31-37) we have an account of Jesus healing a man who is deaf and with an impediment in his speech. Here we are to understand Jesus’ actions as prophetic signs, particularly in fulfilment of the prophecies of Isaiah. In today’s first reading (Isaiah 35:4-7) we are told that the God is coming to save, and will bring healing. Jesus acts in fulfilment of this prophecy when he heals the man who is deaf and unable to speak.
It is important to see here that Jesus is not bringing about any change in the heart of the man he cures. He has told the people that evil emerges in the heart, and it is only through a change of heart that the people can be saved. In fact, not one of the miracles performed by Jesus involves him directly making the state of someone’s heart change. The change of heart happens before and after the miracle. No one, not even God, can make us change our heart, for this rests on our created freedom.
So what is Jesus doing here, and why is it a prophetic sign? When a person’s heart is closed all we can ultimately do to help them is to love them. There is no suggestion here in this passage that the heart of the deaf man is closed, but when Jesus opens him ears and his mouth he is giving a sign of the love of God. When our hearts are closed and our world has shrunken, Jesus enters into our lives with his love. All we are asked to do is to allow him to enter into our hearts, to say to us: “Be opened”. It is his love that becomes our reality, and we learn to live in a new environment; that of the spirit who is love. An environment which is given concrete form in the Church, such that we are called through our participation in the life of the Church, and particularly through the liturgy, to be instruments for Christ’s communication of his love.