St. Augustine of Hippo

Episcopal Church


”Are You Deaf and Dumb?”

September 9, 2018

The Reverend Nathanael Saint-Pierre

This sermon, in its delivery, might be offensive to some. I’d like to apologize in advance because of the way I will perform it. I believe sometimes for the sake of making a point, it is necessary to get into the skin of the characters present in the story. (Any resemblance with one or one’s impediments is just for the edification of the audience.)

Have you ever been in a situation when you’d like to speak up and you couldn’t? I feel like that today, standing in front of my peeps, knowing that I am not just preaching a sermon. I am preaching a sermon that my professors will evaluate. That in itself is in – ti – mi - dating! Have you ever been listening to the news or been at a stand-up comic show and been distracted by some outside noise, and you’ve missed the punch line? You hear people laugh but you wonder what just happened?

Today’s gospel finds Jesus healing a deaf and dumb man. A man who wanted to hear the good news Jesus was proclaiming but couldn’t, a man willing to proclaim this good news, but was unable.

How many of us can hear but won’t listen and how many of us can speak but don’t proclaim? How many friends we have that we won’t bring to Jesus?

Often, as Christians, we proclaim that we are called to speak up for the voiceless. We shut people down so that we can speak FOR them. But it’s not what we see Jesus do in today’s gospel reading. The Greek word used as a qualifier for the dumb man is Μογιλαλον (Mogitatov): “He was not absolutely dumb, but stammered to such a degree, that few understood his speech.” If we know of the link between speech and hearing, we can guess that his speech became impaired due to an accident, either because of his own fault or outside forces. It is important to note that in the healing mystery of today’s gospel, it was not the dumb man who wanted to be healed. It was not due to his faith or the faith of one parent. His friends wanted to reinsert him into the larger community. They wanted to advocate for him and begged Jesus to heal him. 

Yes, Christians, the man was deaf and dumb. No matter how politically correct we may try to be, people with disabilities are not considered normal. We call them dumb, we call them impaired, we call them lame, we call them blind. In fact, we define them by their disabilities. We either are too eager to come to their rescue or we sit passively, amazed to see some being so highly functional that we can’t believe what they are able to get done.

Jesus healed the deaf and dumb man. He restored his ability to speak for himself. He reinstated the man’s normality as a valid member of the community who, once healed, could partake in the fullness of life. Jesus did not speak FOR him or pretend that he heard the voice of God and could translate it as a medium would do. Jesus empowered the brother to hear and speak for himself. Jesus dismantled his impediment and replaced it with an ability to express his needs and understand the world around him. All of that because a few friends cared enough to bring him to Jesus… Those are the friends we need to seek for. Those are the friends we ought to be.

While I am going to tell you the following story, I don’t want you to believe that this is the unique way we can be involved in social transformation for the marginalized. As Christians, that’s what we are called to do. Some may find an excuse not to get involved. Some might say I make everything about Haiti. I want to remind all of us that it is our obligation not to limit our concerns to injustices. We are to transform our concerns into commitment to fight against them. We do that when we transform our passivity into active militance, redemptive and transformative acts of restoration.

St. Vincent’s is a school in Haiti created by Sister Joan of the Society of St. Margaret, a religious order of the Episcopal Church. It was, for a long time, the only school for blind, handicapped, deaf and dumb people of Haiti, the only place where someone with speech issues could go to learn sign language. Anyone with a disability could go there and be taught how to live with it. Sometimes, we cannot perform miracles like Jesus. We cannot just spit on the dirt, make some mud and heal blind people. We cannot wet our finger with spittle and touch people’s ears and tongues (some people would find that disgusting). But we can, like Sister Joan, support structures and institutions that give themselves the mission to care for these individuals. I am not inviting you to develop a Messiah complex and go down to Haiti, thinking you can perform miracles because you know it all and you can do it all. With such an attitude, you won’t be helping. So many of us just increase dependency and pollute an already corrupt oppressive system with our toxic charity.

Helping such a mission is just one way out of many to respond to the social integration of the disabled and disenfranchised. We don’t need to go abroad to do it. We can do it right here. My prayer is that, we express our concerns and we do something against oppressive systems, instead of passively waiting for them to swallow our souls. It is the vocation of all Christians to transform structures of oppression in whatever ways they present themselves.

What a joy there is when we welcome a sister or brother into the midst of the community where they can be fully contributing members to the conversation! What a joy that we can let people speak their minds and hear for themselves what God is calling them to do! Some of us need to look at what Jesus did here and do the same. Jesus did not put a token in a beggar’s plate, he did not create an ongoing system of assistance, welfare and dependency. He empowered and restored a human being to the wholeness of God’s creation. What a moment to celebrate when we become a vehicle of Christ’s love, restoring people to their fullness! Not speaking for them but empowering them to be fully human. What an honor to be the friends to bring those deemed and labeled impaired to full integration into God’s community of faith. Whatever your ways, let us go and be the friends to bring people to Jesus and his movement.