9 September 2018: Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Is 35:4-7a   Ps 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10   Jas 2:1-5   Mk 7:31-37

Be opened to healing

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary readings present stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider how deafness affects us.

In the first reading the prophet Isaiah foretells God’s mighty acts when the Jewish exiles return from Babylon: “the deaf one’s ears are opened,” and “the mute tongue sings for joy.” The Lectionary editors chose this passage because Jesus fulfills Isaiah’s promises in today’s gospel.

The second reading continues the letter of James. Traditionally this letter was ascribed to James, who was executed in 62 AD. However, internal evidence indicates the letter was written in the late first century (90-100 AD). The letter is an exhortation that focuses on moral conduct. In today’s reading the author warns his community about the danger of partiality: judging people by appearances. He warns the ekklesia about right treatment of the poor, and 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.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus is traveling through gentile areas outside of his home base of Galilee. While on the road, he cures several people and feeds four thousand people. Today we hear how Jesus cures a deaf man.

  • Mark’s geography. Mark has Jesus travel north through Tyre and Sidon, then east, and finally south to the region of the Decapolis (“ten cities”). The route is theological rather than logical: Jesus tours the whole of the southern Phoenician gentile regions before he begins his journey to Jerusalem (Mk 8-10). The journey also foreshadows the disciples’ eventual post-Resurrection mission to the gentiles.
  • Healing a deaf man. Earlier in Mark, Jesus healed a possessed man in this district (Mk 5:1-20), so the gentiles already know about Jesus and his healing powers. People bring a deaf man and implore Jesus to heal him. Taking the man away from the crowd, Jesus touches the man’s ears and tongue, and, speaking in his home language of Aramaic, commands: “Ef-fah-THAH!”–“Be opened!” Immediately the man can hear and is able to speak clearly. The early ekklesia recognized the sacramental signs in Jesus’ healing, and incorporated them into the baptism rite (anointing the ears, touching the tongue).
  • The gentiles’ reaction. The overly enthusiastic crowd proclaims, that is, “speaks publicly about something that is divine in origin,” Jesus’ mighty act. Mark implies the gentiles recognize Jesus’ salvific mission, even as his disciples are still deaf to his teachings. The gentiles profess their faith, quoting Isaiah 35:5-6 and actions ascribed to God alone.

Today’s readings challenge RCIA participants and the believing community to sharpen our hearing. Isaiah tells us that God will heal and save those who need healing and saving. The gospel emphasizes that we must ask to be healed and saved. Our world is damaged by human selfishness; we can’t admit that we’ve become deaf to God’s voice. Jesus’ actions and words restore communication and human life to its fullest, healing what is broken between God and humans. Baptism heals our spiritual deafness to God’s word, but the world’s constant blaring can make us deaf again. Do we hear God’s voice calling us, or do we prefer the world’s noise? Do we ask to be healed, or are we waiting for something to happen? Are we open?

—Terence Sherlock

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