Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time – B

Readings: Readings: Is 35:4-7; Ps 146:7-10; Jas 2:1-5; Mk 7:31-37

“Touch and make us WHOLE”

Domingo  is a close friend of mine. He is also a quadriplegic (a person who is permanently unable to move or feel both arms and both legs because of injury or illness). He once gave a retreat talk from his wheelchair I will never forget. After giving the story of his life, he said, “Everyone has a disability. Mine is just visible.” So true. We all have disabilities. We all need Jesus to make us whole, just like the mute in Mark’s gospel, so we can give him praise.

There are some people who have lightened their lives with their mental strength and personal intuition. They were somehow disabled in their life but nothing could stop them from their goal. I will mention three famous persons with disabilities who will always be admired by all.

Albert Einstein: Einstein was the great scientist of the twentieth century and notable physicist of all time. It is told that he had a learning disability in his childhood. He could not talk till he was three and could not read till he was eight. Despite such problems he later became the noble prize winner for his contribution to Physics. His theory of relativity is considered a revolutionary development in Physics. He got the Noble Prize for Physics in 1921 for his explanation of the Photoelectric Effect and for his research in Theoretical Physics.

Stephen Hawking: This famous scientist is considered the greatest scientist of the twentieth century after Einstein. Hawking’s big bang theory and black hole theory have attracted the attention of the world. He is Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge. Though he is almost paralyzed, he is teaching through a computerized machine by which his world is compiled. His physical illness could not stop him from research. His famous book is “A Brief History of Time”.

Michael Bolton: This famous pop and rock singer was deaf but he achieved all obstacles and became famous in the music world. He is famous for his soft rock ballads. Bolton’s album sold 53 million albums. His biggest success came in the mid-thirties as a solo vocalist and he got his first contract for his record at the age of 15. Some of his famous solo works are Everybody’s Crazy, Soul Provider, My Secret Passion etc.

These people were handicapped, but God provided them with more powerful tools to believe in themselves and to be thankful to God.

One day a little boy came home from school and he looked rather sad. His mother said, “Honey, is everything all right?”

He said, “Well, I guess so. But, Billy came to school today and told the class that his daddy had died. They just buried his daddy yesterday, mama.”

Then he said, “Mama, Billy was so upset about his daddy dying that he just cried and cried.”

His mother said, “Well, what did you do?”

He said, “I just laid my head on my desk and cried with him!”

That is the kind of heart that Jesus had, and that is the kind of heart that we need!

An old, affectionate woman loved her aged husband very much.  The old man was hard of hearing. On his birthday, the woman said to her husband, “Darling, I am proud of you!” The old man said loudly “What are your saying? Speak louder!” The old woman repeated, “I am proud of you!” The man replied “Oh Yes, I am fed up of you too!”

Are we fed up of being deaf to Jesus’ sound advice, blind to the wonders of God’s creation and dumb when we must witness to the spirit of Truth? Then, let’s whisper, “Ephpahatha! Be opened!” to each part of our body, and every avenue of our existence.

FIRST READING: IS 35:4-7A

THE PROPHECY AND ITS CONTEXT. The prophet announces in Isaiah 34 an approaching judgment that will embrace all nations. In Edom especially is a great sacrifice prepared that will strip the country of its inhabitants and leave it a desolation, the haunt of wild animals. The future of the redeemed Israelites will be far different from this. The desert soil will produce for them fruit in plenty, human infirmities will cease to vex, human needs will be relieved. The exiles will return to Sion free from all molestation and obtain there never-ending joys. This contrasting future of Israel is described in Isaiah 35.

MESSIANIC CHARACTER OF THE PROPHECY

  • a. We know that all misery and infirmity has been introduced into the world through sin; it is, therefore, antecedently probable that the redemption from sin will be outwardly manifested by a release from those external afflictions of the body. And since the present chapter fully describes a future state of such liberation, we naturally refer it to Jesus Christ who is the liberator and redeemer from sin, to the Messiah.
  • b. Jesus Christ himself appeals, according to St. Matthew 11:5, to such signs as are described in the present chapter in order to prove he is the Messiah. Then shall the eyes of the blind be open, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. . . .
  • c. The evangelist, too, proves the Messiasship of Jesus (Matt 8:17; cf. Is 53:4) by appealing to outward signs of the same nature.
  • d. It is the general custom of Isaiah not to rest in the mere description of the Assyrian destruction or of the ruin of Israel’s enemies; he passes over to the destruction of Israel’s true enemies and to the Messianic age, so much so as to represent the Messias even as Israel s temporal restorer (cf. Is 8:9, 10). We must, therefore, suppose that the prophet has been faithful to his usual way of proceeding, passing from the ruin of the Edomites to the greatest glory of the Israelites, the Messianic times.  

SECOND READING: JAS 2:1-5

In this passage, James again argued for the morality as basis for faith in Christ. While the passage seemed self evident, there were a few undercurrents worth mentioning. First, this was a letter to a community (or communities). So, the intended audience was greater than the leadership. (Yet, 2:2-4 seemed to be addressed to leadership.) Second, the clear-cut, yet extreme choice was more of a Semitic rhetorical device than an actual problem. (After all, any leader who treated a poor man so badly would cause a scandal to the community. His attitude would be an insult to the common virtue of hospitality.) Finally, the words “judging” and “judge” in 2:4 seemed to compare the evil doer with a Jewish synagogue leader. Such a leader could seat a guest in a place of honor during services. (Was James accusing his synagogue counterparts as being money hungry and social snobs?)

The Lord Jesus came to save all, including those who are shunned. If social prejudice disconnects us from the shunned, how can we claim to be faithful followers? The faith James professed pointed to the Lord in glory (2:1), the judge of all. If we don’t judge the way he does (without favor) how can we claim to be truly Christian?

One professor I had said, “We all have prejudices. The question is: what do we do with them?”

Reflect on your own personal preferences. How have you overcome your prejudices? How have these gotten in the way of your relationships? Have they affected your efforts to evangelize? How?

Gospel reading:MK 7: 31-37

This simple miracle narrative has the overtones of an exorcism. The man in question not only gained the ability to hear and speak. He was able to speak clearly, that is, speak for God. Jesus freed the man from more than a physical ailment. He restored the man’s moral character and social contacts. Jews in the time of Jesus assumed physical ailments (like the one the man suffered from) were the result of sin, either personal or ancestral. Such an ailment reflected moral deficiencies. It also placed barriers between the man and a normal social life. (Indeed, some of his family members might have been ashamed of his condition and sought to hide him.) Despite the action of the crowd to deliver the man to Jesus, the man still would have been “different,” counted among the outcasts and sinners.

We must not overlook whose voice, whose command, healed the man. The man responded to Jesus’ word: “Be opened!” The man heard and felt Jesus. His power healed the man. Now, the man could hear the truth. And he could clearly speak the truth. Mark inferred that the man was freed from his demons and rose to proclaim faith.

 Application:

We all have them. Shortcomings. They can be physical, emotional, moral, behavioral, or mental. Most of us have several shortcomings. Some of these shortcomings are real. Others are imagined (they’re only “real” when we compare them to other people). No matter. We will obsess, deny, rationalize them. And we’ll spend real money for relief from them. We’ll do anything to alleviate them, to be free of them.

Sometimes we call these shortcomings our “demons.” In the time of Jesus, the ancients equated many of these shortcomings to demonic possession. Jesus freed a man from a real shortcoming, a demon, but did more than heal him. He allowed the man to hear and speak the truth.

Sometimes our shortcomings are spiritual. We are people of faith, but our spiritual focus is upon the self. Many times we struggle between our immature “needs” and a real exercise in the Spirit’s gifts. These shortcomings can lead us to discouragement (“church does not fulfill my needs anymore”). Or they can challenge us to grow. Through growth, we begin to listen and understand. Then, we can speak clearly. Our ears are no longer blocked. Our tongue is no longer held bound. Despite our shortcoming, Jesus will touch and call to us. And he will use these shortcomings to lead us to greater faith.

We need to be aware that human impossibilities are God’s opportunities. Nothing is impossible to God, not even to heal the most impossible disease!

Jer 32:17 “Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.”

Luke 18:27 “Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”"

Reflect on your own shortcomings. How do they affect your spiritual life? How do they challenge you to redouble your efforts in prayer and service?
 

Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.

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