TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2018)
The ability to hear is a precious gift, and, like most gifts, it is not fully appreciated until it begins to disappear. Fortunately, we live in an era where we can assist our failing power to hear with aids of all kinds. Like our imperfect eyesight, which can be assisted with glasses, the loss of our hearing presents numerous challenges not only to us, but to all those who might be attempting to communicate with us. When Jesus walked with us in the world that He created, there were no aids to assist the hard of hearing or those who had difficulty seeing, and so, on occasion, He would find Himself generously restoring the perfect order of Eden.
The Jewish people were inclined to see sickness of all kinds as some kind of punishment from on High, either for one’s own sinfulness or the sinfulness of unknown ancestors. In their most challenging moments, like those surrounding their painful Babylonian exile, they were comforted by the words of prophets reminding them that their God will usher in a time “when the eyes of the blind will be opened” and “the ears of the deaf be cleared.” It will be a time when “the lame will leap like a stag,” and the “tongue of the mute will sing.” It is against this backdrop that we are meant to view Jesus’ earthy healing of the deaf man in our gospel from Mark.
The rather visceral miracle in today’s gospel is extraordinarily simple and yet remarkably profound. Jesus has moved away from what we might think of as his home territory. He has traveled north to a largely non-Jewish/pagan area, and we are led to believe that the deaf man was from among these people. As our reading from James states, Jesus shows “no partiality” in healing the anonymous Gentile brought to him by friends. There is no testimony about the deaf man’s faith or the faith of his friends. Jesus simply does what He was destined to do, and in healing the deaf man proclaims that in Him God has broken into their world. Jesus is the one foretold by the prophets. All of Jesus’ miracles proclaim “Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.” In His touching and spitting and groaning Jesus’ divinity is revealed, and His love for all people is shown in His embrace of a Gentile who many might have thought unworthy of God’s love.
The living word of God shared with us every time we gather for the Eucharist is meant to remind us of who it is we truly worship. We are meant to be comforted as the Jews were comforted, and we are strengthened in our own times of distress to “be strong, fear not,” for in Jesus we have a God who has “come to save us.” Through us our God will “secure justice for the oppressed,” will “set captives free,” will “raise up those who were bowed down.” Our God “loves the just” and “protects the stranger,” as we see God doing with the deaf stranger in today’s gospel. In times of trial, may we never find ourselves discouraged or confused. May we continue to cooperate with the grace that flows to us on a daily basis in order that we may continue the work of redemption begun by Jesus when He graciously came into our world.