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HOMILY OF ST. BEDE, THE VENERABLE, ON THE
Gospel.–Mark vii. 13 37.—“At that time Jesus going out of the coast of Tyre, he came by Sidon to the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coast of Decapolis, and they bring to him one deaf and dumb, and they besought him that he would lay his hand upon him; and taking him from the multitude apart, he put his fingers into his ears, and spitling, he touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven he groaned and said to him, Ephpheta, that is, be opened, and immediately his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke right, and be charged them that they should tell no man. And the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal did they publish it, and so much the more did they wonder, saying, He hath done all things well, he hath made the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak.”
The deaf and dumb man who was thus miraculously cured, as we have heard in the gospel which has just been read, denoteth such of the human race as deserve by divine grace to be delivered from the error of diabolical deceit. Man became deaf to the bearing of the word of life, from the time that in his pride he listened to the death
bringing words of the serpent against God; and he became dumb to · the praise of his Maker, from the time that he presumed to hold
converse with the seducer. Deservedly was that ear closed from hearing his Creator's praise among the angels, which he had unwarily opened to hearken to His disparagement by the words of His enemy. Deservedly was his mouth closed from joining with the angels in his Maker's praise, who in his pride had sought to better the work of his Creator, by the prevarication of the forbidden food. Alas! for the wretched fall of the human race! for what sprang vicious from the root, grew still worse and worse as it spread forth its boughs and branches, so that on the coming of our Lord in the flesh, with the exception of a few faithful in Judea, almost the whole world wandered astray, deaf and dumb, to the acknowledgment and confession of the truth ; " But where sin abounded grace did more abound.” (Rom. v. 20.)
Now “Our Lord came to the sea of Galilee" where he knew that the sick lay whom he would leal. He came in the grace of his mercy, to the swelling, turbid, and unstable hearts of the Gentiles, in whom
he knew that there were those that were meet for his grace; and it is well said, that he came “Through the midst of the coast of Decapolis, to the sea of Galilee,” in as much as having left the perfidious people who had for so long received his commandments, he came to the Gentiles, that, as St. John saith, “He might gather together into one the children of God that are dispersed.” (John xi. 52.) “ And they bring to him one deaf and dumb, and they besought him that he would lay his hands upon him ;" and because being deaf the man could not hear, and being dumb he could not confess His SAVIOUR, “his friends bring him to him" and besought of him to save him. So truly must we act in a spiritual cure, for if human industry avail not to bring one to listen to and confess the truth ; so must we offer him up to the sight of the divine mercy, and lifting our hands above, entreat assistance, nor shall the mercy of the heavenly physician be long delayed, so only as the instant prayer of His supplicants waver not, nor fail.
“And taking him from the multitude apart, he put his fingers in his ears, and spitting, he touched his tongue.” Yea, he putteth his fingers in the ears of the deaf, when by the gifts of his spiritual grace, He converteth those who long believed not to the hearing of his word. "And spitting he toucheth the tongue of the dumb" that they may be able to speak, when by the ministry of preaching, he recalls those that err from the faith, to the confession that is due. By the fingers of our Lord, are signified the gifts of the Holy Ghost, as He himself says ; "If I by the finger of God cast out devils” (St. Luc. xi. 20.), which the other Evangelist makes more plain : “If I by the spirit of God cast out devils.” (St. Matth. xii. 28.) and in like manner the Psalmist says: “I will behold thy heavens, the works of thy fingers.” (Ps. viii. 4.) I will behold thy saints, not in the merit of their own virtue, but in the gift of thy spirit, raised up above earthly things, and exalted by heavenly conversation. The spittle of the head and mouth of our Lord is the word of the Gospel, received through the invisible secret of His Divinity, but which he vouchsafed in a visible manner to the world that it might be healed. Truly it is to be noted that before our Lord would touch the ear and tongue of the sick man that was to be cured, "taking hold of him he led him apart from the multitude,” for the first hope of being saved, is to forsake the wonted tumult and throng of vices, and so humbly to bow the head to receive the gifts of health. Nor by any means can one think that he is saved, so long as he adheres to any inordinate habit whatsoever, so long as he taketh pleasure in idle words, so long as he fears not to be overwhelmed with turbulent
thoughts; but he, who through the mercy and help of our Lord, hath changed the troublous life of his old conversation ; who hath conceived in his heart the inspiration of divine grace; who, by the word of heavenly doctrine, hath learned the confession of the true faith ; truly abideth till the wished-for joys of health may
Thus, after our Lord had taken the sick man apart from the multitude; after he put his fingers in his ears; and after spitting, he had touched his tongue, it proceeds: “And looking up to Heaven, he groaned and said to him : Ephpheta, that is, Be opened, and immediately his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke right.” And well did our Lord, when he was about to heal the sick man, look up to heaven and groan ; that he might signify whence our hope of salvation should come; and with what devotion of compunction and tears, it must be sought for and implored. “And looking up to Heaven, he groaned ;" for he groaned that we who were made to honour Heaven, were so deeply sunk in earthly things. Looking up to Heaven, be groaned, that he might insinuate that we who had departed from heavenly joys, for the sake of earthly deligats, must needs return to these by the way of groans and sighs. Again, he saith, “ Ephpheta, that is, Be opened,” for the sake of curing the ears, which deafness a long time had closed; for his touch had already opened them to hear. Whence, I believe, the custom of the Church hath grown, that her priests prepare those who are about to receive the sacrament of baptism, among other rites of consecration, by first touching the nostrils and ears with the spittle of their mouth, saying, Ephpheta, --for by the spittle of the mouth they signify the taste of divine wisdom unto which they are to be initiated ; and by the touching of the nostrils, that having cast aside all hurtful delights of sense, they may embrace alone the odour of Christ; as the apostle says, we are the good odour of Christ unto God" (2 Cor. ii. 15), and that they may be ever mindful of the example of holy Job: “ As long as breath remaineth in me, and the spirit of God in my nostrils, my lips shall not speak iniquity, neither shall my tongue contrive lying.” (Job xxvii. 3.) And farther by the touching of the ears; that having cast aside the hearkening to the evil tongue, they may hear the words of Christ and do them; like the wise man, who built his house upon a rock. And every one of us, dearest brethren, who have received the baptismal rite of Christ, have been consecrated after this order; for all who have received the laver of salvation, or shall receive it, or any other rite, are consecrated by his order. And is it not most needful, that what our
merciful Lord hath vouchsafed to wash and sanctify, that we should tremble loosely to contaminate, and for a very trifle profane? But yet albeit should we fall into the mire of filthy wickedness, let us make haste to cleanse ourselves again in the fountain of tears and penance. Let us renew the purity of our ears, which ought ever to have had conversation only with the hearing of the faith, fearful lest we incur the reproach of the Apostle ; lest “ having itching ears, we will indeed turn away our hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables." (2 Tim. iv. 3.) Let us restrain our tongue from evil, which has been sanctified by the confession of faith ; let us fear lest “ by it we bless God and the Father, and by it we curse men who are made after the likeness of God." (James iii. 9.) For “ if any man think himself to be religious, not bridling his tongue, this man's religion is vain.” (Ib. i. 26.)
“And behold immediately his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke right.” We, then, who have learned to speak right, through our baptism, “ for with the heart we believe unto justice; but with the mouth confession is made unto salvation,” (Rom. x. 10), let us above all take care,
lest after baptism we decline unto unjust and hurtful words; and since, as our Judge himself beareth witness,“ every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account for it in the day of judgment," (St. Matt. xii. 36), what do we think shall be done to those who speak not only idle, but wicked words; who boast of their lasciviousness, blaspheming, and what is so sadly common, who fear not to make use of words of detraction ; who tell lies, and give false testimony; who sow discord among brethren.
But it is not enough only to restrain our ears and tongue from evil, if do not, according to the Psalmist, “ incline our ears also to the words of the mouth of God” (Ps. Ixxvii. 1); if our mouth speak not wisdom; and the meditation of our heart be upon prudence. Moreover it behoves us to keep all the senses of our interior and exterior man-who all have been washed in baptism, both clean, and above all, ever adorned by good works.
But having cured him that was deaf and dumb, let us attend to what follows: “And he charged them that they should tell no man. But the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal did they publish it, and so much the more did they wonder, saying, he hath done all things well; he hath made both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.” Wherefore do we believe, beloved brethren, these acts? Is
it not to be thought that here the only begotten Son of God worketh a sign, and wishes this to be hid, which yet contrary to his will is spread abroad; neither might he conceal in silence, if he wished, what he could do when he wished. Or is it happily that he would give us an example; that when we do virtue's works, we may avoid the vice of boasting and human glory, lest our good action be deprived, through the empty favour of the vulgar, of its reward of retribution. We know, indeed, that our works, if they be worthy of imitation, can no ways be hid, but rather that they may be spread abroad, for the profit of brotherly correction, by his own dispensation, as he himself says: “A city seated on a mountain cannot be bid.” (St. Matt. v. 14.) “For whatsoever things you have spoken in darkness, shall be published in the light.” (St. Luke xii. 3.) And so in every deed is this dispensa. tion of our Lord to be understood; not that any one suppose, that when doing good, we ought to beware of our brother's countenance, seeing our Lord says, “ So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works” (St. Matt. v. 16); but that we show by our works to our brethren, that we seek not our praise in them, but their advancement. For this is what follows, “ that they may glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Such are they who show their good works with this intention, that they may be to His only praise; but not those who grow in good for the sake of praise, and not that our Father who is in heaven be glorified; for such come under the terrible rebuke of those of whom it is said: “ Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.” (St. Matt. vi. 16.) But this must be said, if they cannot be silent of the virtues of our Lord who have taken the command of silence, much more is it even necessary for us, as heralds of divine grace, who are commanded to refresh one another by daily words and heavenly almsdeeds; as the apostle St. John says, “ He that heareth, let him say, come” (Apoc. xxii. 17); who hath conceived grace in the mind of divine aspiration ; who hath learned the word of consolation, with which he may profitably comfort his neighbour; let him by no means conceal what he knows in silence, but let him communicate it by unfolding it to his brethren. If thus we neglect not to tell our brethren kindly what we have known, He will come, “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Col. ii. 3.) And what now we know in part, our Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten of his Father, shall vouchsafe to bring unto perfection, even the light of his truth, who liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God. Amen.