Sunday, Sept. 9, is the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Liturgical Year B, Cycle II).
Isaiah 35:4-7; Psalm 146:7-10; James 2:1-5; Mark 7:31-37
Today’s Gospel is truly the “Good News.”
“Thus says the Lord,” says the first reading, “Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong; fear not! Here is your God; he comes with vindication.”
It’s an irresistible idea. The God who created us and loves us sometimes seems so far away. But no longer: He’s coming!
“Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag,” Isaiah continues, with exhilarating imagery. “Streams will burst forth in the desert … and rivers in the steppe.”
Talk about Good News! The vindication of God’s faithful believers is “Great News,” and this Sunday’s Gospel reading shows how literally it came true.
Jesus was constantly going around setting people free from sickness and the devil. In this instance, “people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him. … He put his finger into the man's ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned.”
Jesus called out, “Be opened!” — and the man could hear and speak plainly.
We would love to have that kind of encounter with Christ. He sounds wonderful and exciting — even the Psalm piles on the praise, promising that the Lord “secures justice for the oppressed ... sets captives free ... raises up those who were bowed down ... protects strangers.”
But then it hits home to the reader: Why isn’t this happening in my life?
There are a couple of answers to that. The first is: It does.
We have seen priests do almost precisely what Our Lord did, calling out, “Be opened!” to children in baptism. And, in baptism, we ourselves have been gifted with a grace that is much deeper and more “real” than simple physical cures.
Physical wholeness is a great thing, but true happiness lies in spiritual and emotional wholeness.
But another answer to “Why am I not seeing this?” is hidden in the second reading.
Remember that Jesus said all along that “the measure with which you measure will be measured back to you.” If you are ungenerous or selfish, your soul will be greatly diminished in its capacity to receive love and grace from him.
The second reading, from the Letter of James, shows that even in the early Church some Christians were growing ungenerous and selfish.
“My brothers and sisters, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ,” he says. He describes a situation where a nicely dressed man and a poor man approach you. How should they be treated?
Many of us, truth be told, will treat the nicely dressed man much better
As St. James puts it, “Have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs? … God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom.”
When Jesus bestows his greatest cures — wholeness in body or mind — he does so for those who are poor in spirit and thus open to his love and grace. For those who are showing partiality or who are “on the take,” there’s not much he can do. Too often, like it or not, we are those Christians who are “on the take.”
But we can be cured of that malady. If we are selectively deaf or mute to the human beings around us, we should ask Christ to cure us. Then we will be the ones who say, like those in the Gospel, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.