Can You Handle the Truth?

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A recent ad for a hearing aid company cites a study stating that in marriages where a spouse has hearing loss, both people suffer. Problems arise when the one who CAN hear becomes unsure of whether their spouse actually can’t hear them or whether they are simply using their condition as a license to ignore them. The resulting anger can give way to fear that an eventual and actual inability to hear might contribute to the spouse’s mental decline.

All of this may very well be hype to sell hearing aids, but this Sunday’s scripture readings offer a bit of support connecting fear to human deafness and blindness, whether physiological or conditional. Take the deaf and dumb man brought to Jesus in the Gospel reading (Mk 7:31-37). Both he and his hearing friends had the same reason to fear what Jesus was about to do: to open their ears to disruptive spiritual truths for the first time in their lives.

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!” — And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly. … They were exceedingly astonished and they said, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

But as that hearing aid ad implies, sometimes our deafness—as with some blindness—can be willful. In our second reading (Jas 2:1-5), James asks us, as we discriminate between people we want to see and hear vs. those we don’t, “have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs?”

It may be that those we choose not to see and hear offer us fearsome truths. Eventually, we must confront our inner Jack Nicholson, whose cornered colonel in “A Few Good Men” lashes out at his courtroom accusers: “You can’t HANDLE the truth!”

In that way, we adults can be like frightened children, caught doing something for which we should be ashamed and are now being verbally schooled on what we should have done. We cover our ears and shout LALALALA so we can’t hear the truth. On a human scale, truth is a fearsome thing. But it can also be awesome if we surrender to it. We 21st century blind and deaf humans should open our senses to the wisdom Isaiah offers in Sunday’s first reading (Is 35:4-7a) and share it with our fellow fearful handicapped souls:

Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! 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.

After the people who heard Jesus command the deaf man, “Ephphatha!”— “Be opened!” — and saw the man respond to the truths accompanying this miracle, what did they do? They turned deaf to Jesus’ instructions not to tell anyone. Maybe Jesus feared that the legions of people who heard of this miracle would be so impressed they’d forget hearing’s accompanying responsibility: to listen.

–Tom Andel

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