SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ GEN 3:1-8; PS 32:1-2, 5-7; MARK 7:31-37 ]

In the gospel, Jesus was asked to lay His hands over a man who had a speech impediment because he was deaf.  Jesus promptly “took him aside in private, away from the crowd, put his fingers into the man’s ears and touched his tongue with spittle. Then looking up to heaven he sighed; and he said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened’. And his ears were opened, and the ligament of his tongue was loosened and he spoke clearly.”

Yet the irony of it all was that the man who was supposedly deaf and dumb turned out to be the only one who could hear and act wisely.  The others were the ones who were really deaf and dumb.  They did not hear what Jesus instructed them.  “Jesus ordered them to tell no one about it, but the more he insisted, the more widely they published it. Their admiration was unbounded. ‘He has done all things well,’ they said ‘he makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.'”  By announcing to others what Jesus had done, they thought that they were doing Jesus a favour when in fact they were helping the devil to diminish His ministry.

Right from the start of Jesus’ ministry, the devil sought to distract Jesus from relying on the power of God through humble service.  He sought to tempt Jesus to perform feats to prove to others in a spectacular way that He was the Son of God.  In the Temptation Story of Jesus, He was tempted to change stone to bread and to jump down from the pinnacle of the Temple.  (cf Mt 4:1-11)  The devil sought to have others follow Jesus simply because of the miracles.  This is still the temptation today.  When we proclaim the gospel simply on miracles without the message, Jesus becomes simply a dispensing machine to fulfill all the desires of man, especially worldly desires instead of living the kingdom life of love, service and obedience to His will.  This explains why Jesus forbade the devil to reveal His identity because He wanted the people to come to know Him personally rather than by hearsay.  (cf Mk 1:21-28)

The placing of the healing of the deaf and dumb man is sandwiched between two groups of people who were supposedly able to hear the Word of God and obey it.  Earlier on, Jesus was reprimanding the Scribes and Pharisees, people who were meticulously observant of the Law of Moses and knew how to interpret the Word of God.  He cited from the prophet Isaiah, “this people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.'”  Indeed, as He remarked earlier on, saying, “They may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.”  (Mk 4:12)  Following this healing miracle was the multiplication of loaves for five thousand.  Again, they were dumb and unable not able to see the work of God.  Instead, the Pharisees asked for a sign.  (Mk 8:11-13)  However, even His own disciples were deaf, blind and dumb.  Jesus told them, “Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? Do you not yet understand?”  (Mk 8:17f, 21)

In the first reading, this inability to hear and act wisely is illustrated in the Temptation Story of our first parents.  Specifically, God instructed Adam and Eve not to eat “the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden.”  God said, “You must not eat it, nor touch it, under pain of death.”  Yet, we read that they obviously did not hear clearly what the Lord said to them since the devil asked the woman, “Did God really say you were not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?”  Indeed, this is how the temptation of the Evil One works, by raising doubts in our minds with regard to the truths that we hold in our lives.

This explains why those of us who do not read the Word of God or keep ourselves abreast of the teachings of the Church often raise doubts about the scriptures and the Church’s teaching because our point is based not on the bible or the authoritative teaching of the Church but some opinions of the world.  In fact, we Catholics tend to consult everyone else in the secular world about the truth of what moral values are, rather than the Church.  Rather than departing from the viewpoint of the Word of God and then seeking to understand that of the world, we are prejudiced against the scriptures and the teaching of the Church.  When doubts are raised about our faith without us clarifying it for ourselves, doubts will eventually lead to a weakening of faith.  This is how the devil is destroying faith in the world today, by raising doubts over the truth of what the Church is teaching, or the credibility of their Church leaders.

Secondly, we read that the woman was misguided.  She was too dumb to know what true knowledge is.  Jesus tells us that the devil is the Father of lies.  Jesus said, “You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”  (Jn 8:44)  The way of the Evil One is to distort the truth, much like how fake news is being transmitted so quickly in the world through social media.  Before one realizes that these are fake news, the minds of the people who read them would have been contaminated and prejudiced, or they might never even find out that what they read were half-truths.

Truly, half-truths are not easy to decipher.  The devil suggested to the woman saying, “No! You will not die! God knows in fact that on the day you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, knowing good and evil.”  That is why sin is always presented as something pleasant and pleasurable.  This is why it is always tempting and irresistible. “The woman saw that the tree was good to eat and pleasing to the eye and that it was desirable for the knowledge that it could give.  So she took some of its fruit and ate it. She gave some also to her husband who was with her, and he ate it.”   So the knowledge of good and evil brings more disaster to us.  What is evil is often presented as good; and what is good is portrayed as evil.  This is what the Evil One is doing in today’s time.  The moral values of the gospel are portrayed as against the happiness and freedom of humanity whereas the amoral values of the world are presented as beautiful, gracious, dignified and good for humanity.

What were the half-truths that the devil tempted the woman with?  Firstly, he failed to tell her what it meant for their eyes to be opened and the implications of knowing what is good and evil.  To know what is good and evil does not mean that one has absolute freedom.  The world today thinks that freedom is to do what one likes to do.  This is not freedom but slavery masked as freedom.  When we are not in control of ourselves or unable to determine the ultimate good for ourselves, we do not have freedom.  True freedom is to do the right thing and for our real good, not just apparent good.  True freedom is obedience to the truth.  So just by knowing what is good and evil will not give us the power to do the right thing.  St Paul himself, basing on his own experience confessed, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good.”  (Rom 7:15f) True enough, we read that “the eyes of both of them were opened and they realised that they were naked. So they sewed fig-leaves together to make themselves loin-cloths.”  In other words, they realized that they could no longer control their lust and sensual desires.  Hence, they had to wear clothes to hide their bodies from each other unlike before the fall. In other words, they lost their freedom, which is what we call concupiscence, the effect of the sin of disobedience.

Secondly, he deceived them into thinking that they will be like gods.  Whilst it is true that we are called to be like God by imitating Him in love, in virtues and in life, we are not gods.  The deception of the world today is that the One God has been replaced by many gods.  Everyone in the name of relativism proclaims himself to be god, because he knows everything and he knows what is good for him.  He supplants the place of God to be his own moral principle and no one else.   When we do not acknowledge God and make ourselves our own god, our arrogance and self-confidence will lead us to self-destruction.  When man seeks to be God without God, which is what Adam and Eve sought to do, they become more confused and unenlightened.

Today, we are called to be true to our identity as God’s children.  Instead of falling into the temptations of the Evil One, we must avoid temptation by being alert as St Peter warns us.  “Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.”  (1 Pt 5:8)  We must flee from temptations instead of allowing negative and unwholesome thoughts to be conceived into words and actions.  To resist temptations, we must watch and pray as the Lord advised us.  “Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  (Mt 26:41)  “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”  (Eph 6:10f; 16f)

Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved

Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
  • Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
  • Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
  • It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.

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