| Is 35:4-7a
|| Ps 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10
|| Jas 2:1-5
|| Mk 7:31-37
Be opened to healing
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 9). 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?
| Ez 33:7-9
|| Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
|| Rom 13:8-10
|| Mt 18:15-20
The believing community: love, loss, prayer, change
During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings describe the believing community’s responsibilities to its members.
The first reading from the prophet Ezekiel shifts the prophet’s role from addressing the people of Israel to addressing the individual within the community. The prophet’s task is to warn, and the individual’s responsibility is to hear and respond. In today’s gospel, Jesus describes the believing community’s role of warning members who bring harm to the ekklesia.
The second reading continues the letter to the Romans. In this section, Paul comes close to Jesus’ interpretation of the law of love (Mt 22:38-40). He says the law of love supersedes all other laws, Mosaic and civil, because when love is the basis for moral decisions, the goals of all laws–protection of familial relationships, life, and security–are met and safeguarded. This law of love underlies the gospel’s fraternal correction.
Matthew’s gospel is from the “sermon on the church” section. Jesus addresses the believing community’s responsibility to care for its members, even those who offend or hurt the community. He instructs disciples as follows:
- The teaching’s context. Throughout Chapter 18, Matthew presents Jesus’ teachings for and about the ekklesia. Jesus first resolves the disciples’ dispute about who is the greatest among them (v 1-5); warns about temptation (v 6-9); tells of God’s interest in and mercy for the lost (v 12-14); instructs how to manage loss within the community (v 15-20); and finally, teaches about forgiveness (v 21-35). Within this context, fraternal correction is a loving, pastoral action that preserves the ekklesia‘s unity.
- The need for correction. Jesus teaches the disciples how to correct someone whose actions offend or harm the community while he or she remains part of the community. First, address the person’s behavior in private. If private correction fails, address the person’s behavior in the presence of two or three witnesses. If this correction fails, bring the matter to the local believing community. If ekklesia correction fails, as a last resort, expel the offender from the believing community to avoid further damage to the community.
- The need for continued community. Jesus’ call for fraternal correction follows the parable of the lost sheep (v 12-14). Jesus reminds his disciples that they must also pray for the offender’s metanoia (change of mind/heart) because each one is important to God. Jesus ends today’s teaching ends with a description of God’s response to prayer. Jesus promises to be in the midst of any gathering of his disciples, however small. Jesus’ presence within the praying community adds to the efficacy of the ekklesia‘s prayer to the Father.
Although founded by Jesus and guided by the Spirit, the believing community is made of redeemed but imperfect humans. All get lost sometimes. All fail to love perfectly; there are times when our unloving behavior hurts others. The believing community offers forgiveness and support always to those who “miss the mark.” Do we easily correct others without first examining our own actions? Do we have the humility to hear the request to change our own hearts/minds? Do we pray for metanoia, especially our own?
||Ps 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14-17
||Phmn 9-10, 12-17
Discipleship: warnings about its difficulty
During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ stories and teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings warn would-be disciples about how difficult it is to follow Jesus.
In the first reading, book of Wisdom’s author describes how difficult it is for humans to know God’s mind. Unless God sends us wisdom, we are unable to “search out things in heaven.” The Lectionary editors chose this reading to parallel the difficult discipleship messages in today’s gospel.
In the second reading, Paul writes to Philemon about his runaway slave Onesimus. While Paul is in prison (probably in Ephesus), he met and baptized Onesimus. Paul asks Philemon to take a social risk in service to the gospel: to receive Onesimus back without reprisal, to refuse financial reparation, to go farther in generosity and free Onesimus, and to recognize Onesimus as a brother through baptism.
In the gospel, Luke shifts abruptly from Jesus talking to dinner guests in the Pharisee’s house (last week’s gospel, Lk 14: 7-14) to Jesus addressing “great crowds travelling with him” about the difficulties of being Jesus’ disciple. Luke gives three sayings and two parables from Jesus about discipleship:
- Saying 1: Hating (renouncing) family and life (Lk 14:26). Luke uses the Greek word μισέω (mih-SHEH-oh), translated here as “hate.” μισέω can also mean “disregard” or “to regard less than.” Would-be disciples must put Jesus ahead of family and social ties–one’s very life. In tight-knit Middle Eastern society, choosing to align with someone outside the family carried risk: loss of family, loss of status, and possibly loss of personhood.
- Saying 2: Carrying a cross (Lk 14:27). Choosing Jesus over family means losing not only social ties, but also economic ties–the usual way of earning a living. Would-be disciples will encounter personal suffering and economic uncertainty (and, in later times, persecution)–hard burdens for anyone to carry.
- Saying 3: Renouncing possessions (Lk 14:33). Choosing Jesus means giving up all earthly possessions of family, status, and the security of ownership. Luke warns would-be disciples to consider carefully what Jesus asks. He tells two short parables about discipleship’s risks and costs.
- Parable 1: Building a tower (Lk 14:28-30) and Parable 2: Strategizing for war (Lk 14:31-32). Would-be disciples must gage their level of commitment. If a would-be disciple lacks commitment–lays a foundation but is unable to finish the tower–he will be ridiculed and shamed. Would-be disciples without sufficient resources–to win the battle–will lose everything.
Over the last few weeks, Jesus described the kingdom’s bounty and feasts. Today he paints a realistic picture of discipleship’s personal costs. God’s kingdom is not yet here; the disciples’ mission is to bring God’s kingdom. Paul challenges Philemon to start bringing the kingdom by changing his relationship with Onesimus. Jesus challenges his hearers to follow him only if they are willing to lose themselves. Many oppose God’s kingdom (and Jesus’ disciples) because God’s kingdom means an end to their personal earthly kingdoms. Do we have the wisdom to give up our personal kingdoms and become disciples committed to bring God’s kingdom?
|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 ekklesia 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?