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23 Sunday B: Shorter Version

23rd Ordinary Sunday, Year B, 09.09.2018
Isaiah 35:4-7/ James 2:1-5/ Mark 7: 31-37


The mother-tongue is understood as the language that is learnt from birth.
It is also sometimes called the native language, but still the term “mother-tongue” is more endearing.
More than just a being a language that our mothers taught us, it is the language that resonates deep within us, it is the language of the heart.

Maybe that is why there is some debate over the issue of “mother-tongue” and dialects, especially for the tribals in Tripura, NE India. Because Bengali is being taught as the official language in schools.
But the tribal elders and those of the older generation from the villages often speak dialects or what is called the “mother-tongue”, and that has resulted in some communication problems between the old and young, especially in traditional families.

If immigrants can force their language and culture on the natives or the original inhabitants of a state like Tripura how much more the conquerors like Moguls, the Portuguese and the British would have done to the natives. So it is quite serious when it comes to the conquest of a nation by a more powerful nation.

Besides tearing down the national monuments, the conquerors would enforce their language on the conquered people.

The aim is to make the people forget their own language by suppressing their mother-tongue.
When the mother-tongue is not spoken and heard anymore, people will slowly forget their identity, their origins and their culture.

And when they are forced to speak a new language, they will inevitably adopt another identity and another culture that is alien to them.

But in order to survive, they will have to speak the language of the oppressors.
And they will also have to accept whatever the oppressor calls them, and that may mean being called inferior and being treated as outcasts.

Such has happened throughout history, and such has happened during the time of Jesus.
During the time of Jesus, the Roman army has conquered and occupied Israel and the people were speaking a mixture of Greek, Latin and Hebrew.

That was why when Jesus was crucified on the cross, the sign that was nailed to the cross was written in Greek, Latin and Hebrew.

In the face of oppression and injustice, the Jews were trying to hold on to their mother-tongue, to their identity, to their origin and to their culture.

More critically, they were trying to hold on to their faith in God as their enemies flaunt their power and might.
They were trying to find their words of faith in order to express their trust in God and their hope for deliverance.
It was very tempting and also very convenient to speak the language of their oppressors and to abandon their faith altogether.

Today’s gospel passage tells us of Jesus healing a man who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech.
It could be seen as just a miraculous healing story. But it is more than just a miraculous healing.
It was interesting that Jesus used the Hebrew word “Ephphatha” meaning “Be opened”.
In the act of healing, besides putting His fingers into the man’s ears and touching his tongue, Jesus used the native language of the Jewish people.
It was the language of their fore-fathers, it was the language of their faith that expressed their identity and their origins and their culture.

In using the Hebrew word “Ephphatha”, Jesus made the people recall their mother-tongue, and also how God had spoken to them in the past.
As we all know, the mother-tongue or the native language is learnt by hearing it first.
It is from hearing that we can reproduce the sounds. It is from hearing it first, that we learn the language.

Romans 10:17 puts it very profoundly when it says that faith comes from hearing the message.
Indeed when we hear the language of faith, then we are able to speak the language of faith.
Yet in this world, the language of the world is louder than the language of faith.
The language of this world is not propagated by force or oppression.
Rather the language of the world rides on pleasure and desires and false impressions and empty promises.

For example, how often do we hear about the virtues of purity and chastity?
And that is because the world makes a joke out of purity and chastity.
Just mention the word “virginity” and the world would snigger and laugh, as if it is some kind of embarrassment.
Because the world says that purity and chastity are out of fashion and even obsolete, or maybe it is just for religious freaks.

And consequently, fidelity and faithfulness to marriage are also taken lightly.
And what have we to say about that? As a people of faith, what language are we going to use?
To be silent would mean that we have succumbed to the pressures of the world and to speak their language.
To be silent would mean that we have forgotten our language of faith.
In the Eucharist, we are gathered to hear the Word of God.
Our ears are opened to hear again the language of our faith.
Through the language of faith, Jesus tells us to live our lives with purity and chastity, with fidelity and faithfulness, with kindness and patience and humility.
And with faith, we open our mouths and speak about what we believe in and teach others the language of faith.

What God has opened, we must not close; what God has spoken, we must not keep silent.
Jesus has done all things well in making the deaf hear and the dumb speak.
Let us continue to speak the language of our faith, so that we will know who we are, where we came from, and what we must do. (Slightly adapted from SY)