Christ performed miracles, not magic, and they pointed to even greater realities.
They were exceedingly astonished and they said, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”—Mark 7:37
When J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was released in 1997, no one could have imagined how wildly popular—and beloved—Harry and his friends would become. In seven books, Rowling created a new world of possibilities populated by unlikely heroes, cruel villains, and fantastic beasts in which she explored complicated themes as varied as friendship, cultural prejudices, love, growing up, and death. But, for all their unique qualities and characters, the Harry Potter books are really only another chapter in the much older literary genre of fantasy that includes authors as revered as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.
The myths and legends that form the basis of what we now think of as “fantasy” are almost as old as literature itself. These stories—both old and new—represent a way of trying to make sense of the natural world and human life by introducing supernatural elements, particularly the use of magic.
By definition, “magic” is an attempt to tame or manipulate supernatural powers in order to use them to have control over nature or others (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2117). Whether we think of the legends of King Arthur, the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, or the young wizard Harry Potter, literature is filled with examples of women and men doing remarkable and terrible acts by the use of magic. Even the Bible tells us about the witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28:3-25) and Simon “the Magician” (Acts 8:9-24). We also know, however, that the practice of magic is forbidden and a violation of the First Commandment, because God alone has power over the created world and we can never presume that we can control or manipulate God.
The story recounted in this Sunday’s Gospel tells us about a wonderful sign performed by Jesus. In the Gospel, we learn about a deaf-mute whose friends brought him to Jesus, hoping that he would be healed. St. Mark tells the story simply: “Jesus took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned and said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ (that is, ‘Be opened!’)” (7: 33-34). The man was instantly cured of his deafness and speech impediment. Both the one who had been cured and the crowd were all astounded by what they had witnessed. And rightly so.
The accounts of the wonders in the gospels aren’t there to simply make us marvel at Jesus’ great powers. After all, Jesus wasn’t a magician using magic formulas to show his control over the forces of nature—or the power of God—for his own benefit. Rather, Jesus’ miracles were moments of the revelation of God’s power at work in Him. They were signs of his command over Creation, and his ability to heal and restore, and they were an essential part of Jesus’ mission and ministry (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 515 and 548).
In the First Reading of this Sunday’s Mass, we hear from the Prophet Isaiah: “Here is your God, / he comes with vindication; / with divine recompense / he comes to save you. / Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, / the ears of the deaf be cleared” (35:4-5). The promises that God made through Isaiah so many centuries before were being fulfilled in Jesus, the one who could make the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.
Magic or miracles? How we understand Jesus and his wonders is essential for understanding that this Sunday’s Gospel isn’t only a story about an isolated miraculous healing. That was the mistake the crowd made: they weren’t able to look beyond the healing to see that God was doing so much more. The healing of the deaf-mute was a sign of what God could accomplish in their lives, as well.
Thanks to Jesus’ healing touch, the deaf man “was opened.” Before his encounter with Jesus, he had been closed off, isolated in a world of silence, and it had been difficult for him to communicate because of his speech impediment. For the deaf-mute, this healing meant an “opening” to those around him. Jesus didn’t simply “open” the man’s ears and mouth, he opened up the man’s entire life. He was able to communicate and relate to the world around him—and to God—in a new way.
This Sunday, as we recall the divine power of Jesus expressed in this great sign, the challenge is for us to recognize that Jesus is also reaching out to us with his healing touch. The words of Isaiah remind us that Jesus came to “open”—to liberate—us so that we can live out our relationship with God and others with fully open minds, hearts, and spirits.
What areas in my life are closed to God’s grace?Do I listen to the words of Scripture with an open mind and heart?How do the stories of Jesus’ miracles expand my understanding of God’s power and love at work in my life?
Words of Wisdom: “The Spirit is called the finger of God. When the Lord puts his fingers into the ears of the deaf mute, he was opening the soul of men and women to faith through the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”—St. Gregory the Great