WORDS & GESTURES

We can communicate with people in a variety of ways. We can speak to them in person or on the phone. We can text them, send an email, leave a voicemail, post a message on social media, etc.

If they are near us, we can wordlessly communicate with our gestures.

To show that we are happy to see them, we can smile or give them a wink.

To indicate we are angry with them, we can shake a fist in the air.

To express our approval or disapproval, we can give them a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down.”

We can communicate more than we might imagine simply by using gestures.

In his ministry Jesus spoke many words as he proclaimed the Gospel, and he performed several miracles simply with his words.

For example, Jesus raised Lazarus to life by shouting, “Lazarus, come out,” before the entrance to the tomb. (John 11:43)

Jesus drove out an unclean spirit from a possessed man by saying, “Quiet! Come out of him!” (Mark 1:22)

Jesus cured a paralytic by ordering him to, “Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.” (Matthew 9:6)

However, on other occasions Jesus employed gestures as well as words to perform his mighty deeds.

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 7:31-37), Jesus uses gestures more than words to cure a man unable to hear or speak.

Jesus takes the man away from the crowd so that he can give him undivided attention. Jesus then puts his finger into the man’s ears. He then spits and touches the man’s tongue.

By touching the man’s ears and tongue, Jesus indicates he is invoking God’s power. His spitting conveys that same message since at that time, saliva was thought to have healing properties.

Jesus then looks heavenward to God, and says, “Ephphatha!” He commands the ears and tongue that he touched to be healed, and they are.

Certainly, the words of Jesus were powerful, and equally powerful were his healing gestures. For the deaf man, they communicated far more any words of Jesus ever could, for he was unable to hear.

Today, Jesus continues to transform the lives of people as the Good News of the Gospel is preached by his Church. He also touches people through the signs and gestures made present in the Sacraments.

In Baptism, a person is washed clean and reborn in the waters of new life. In Confirmation, people are filled with the Holy Spirit as hands are laid upon them and they are anointed with holy chrism. In the Eucharist, we become one “holy communion” with God as consecrated bread and wine are shared.

But the signs that communicate the presence and action of God are not limited to the sacraments. As members of the Church, our actions, our gestures, also communicate, or fail to communicate, the presence of Jesus.

In Sunday’s Second Reading (James 2:1-5), Saint James criticizes Christians who are favoring the rich and the powerful over the poor and powerless. He reminds them, “Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom.” Gestures of partiality to the rich contradict the Gospel. They are bad signs.

Jesus communicated by word and gesture, and so do we. Our gestures and our actions must match the words of faith we so easily say at Mass. As the deaf man would tell us, gestures can speak more powerfully than words.

© 2021 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski