6 September 2015: Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 35: 4-7a Ps 146: 7, 8-9, 9-10 Jas 2: 1-5 Mk 7: 31-37

How Jesus’ acts of power change people

In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all the believing community with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week we continue reading about discipleship in Mark.

The first reading is from Isaiah, who prophesized before the Babylonian exile (597-537 BC). Isaiah describes God’s restoration of the promised land to the faithful, and God’s mighty acts when David’s descendant returns to the throne. The Lectionary editors chose this passage because it includes “the deaf one’s ears are opened,” and “the mute tongue sings for joy.” Jesus fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy in today’s gospel.

The second reading is a continuation of the letter of James from last week. In today’s reading, the author of James warns the believing community about right treatment of the poor, writing to an ekklasia whose richer members get special attention–for example, better seats at the liturgy. He reminds his hearers that “God chose the poor” to be “heirs of the kingdom.” That is, through baptism we are God’s adopted children and share equally in God’s kingdom, based on God’s love for us. Any divisions in the believing community are based on faulty human reasoning (“judges with evil designs.”)

Today’s gospel follows last week’s teaching about hand washing and purity. Jesus travels to the region of the Decapolis (“the ten cities,”) a largely gentile area east of the Jordan river. Mark’s change of geography allows him to contrast Jesus’ rejection by the Jerusalem Pharisees and scribes with the faith of those on the edges of Judaism. Mark’s gospel gives us two details that announce who Jesus is. First,Jesus cures a man who is deaf and has a speech impediment (literally “of little talking,”) matching exactly the words of the first reading. This detail reveals Jesus as an eschatological prophet-servant who fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy. Second, Jesus cures the man through touch and a special Aramaic word (“ephphatha“). This detail reveals Jesus as a wonder-worker, who uses the techniques of laying on hands and commanding language. Jesus’ acts of power changes both the deaf-mute and his disciples as well. As the disciples witness Jesus’ cures, they also are being cured of their lack of faith, deafness to who Jesus is, and difficulty proclaiming the gospel. As we continue reading in Mark, we will find the disciples being changed–beginning next week with Peter’s profession of faith at Caesarea Philippi.

The RCIA process emphasizes reading from the gospels because it is through the gospels that Jesus reveals who he is and what he wants his disciples to be and to do. While Jesus’ acts of power immediately heal the sick, they also transform those who “see.” Miracles have meaning far beyond the cures themselves. Through miracles, Jesus shows and tells us–his disciples–who he is. Are we like the crowd, so “superabundantly amazed” by the healing that we are deaf what Jesus says? Or are we like the disciples, personally transformed Jesus’ acts of power? Are we moved beyond limited human vision and divisions? Are our ears opened to hear what Jesus asks of us? Are our tongues freed to tell others about our faith?

—Terence Sherlock

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