TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2021)
Readings:Isaiah 35:4-7Psalms 146:7-10James 2:1-5Mark 7:31-37
For the past two weeks we were back to our regular reading of Mark’s gospel, after our month long diversion with the Bread of Life discourse from John, during this Year B of Ordinary time. All will recall that Mark’s gospel is the shortest gospel, the oldest gospel, a gospel written for non-Jewish people, and the only gospel to have today’s version of the healing of the man born blind. The healing takes place in the Decapolis, an area where Greek would have been spoken freely, and an area with people that Mark would have been very interested in connecting with.
The Sunday liturgies do a good job of connecting both Testaments, and while people of Jewish faith count most of what is included in the Old Testament as part of their Scriptures, Christians see the First Testament as that which leads up to, and sometimes prophetically prefigures, what is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. During all of Ordinary Time, and most frequently during other liturgical seasons, readings from the First Testament are always proclaimed, and today is no exception. While the celebration of the Eucharist is not intended to be educational in nature, the persons who open themselves fully to the Eucharistic experience cannot help but be educated by the proclamation of Old and New Testaments readings, and by the carefully prepared homilies given by the main celebrant or another appropriate homilist. The full participation of the faithful includes listening intently to the proclamation of the wisely chosen readings, and following along with whatever wisdom is imparted by the homilist.
More than 700 years before Christ was born in a stable, the prophet Isaiah spoke to a needy people, who not only needed to hear the threat of God’s judgment, but they also needed to hear the promise of God’s restoration of the land and His people which always accompanied the former. Today’s first reading is a beautiful example of God’s restoration for those who are frightened by His judgement: “Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing. Streams will burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe. The burning sands will become pools, and the thirsty ground, springs of water. (35:4-7)”. The responsorial psalm echoes Isaiah when it tells us that “the Lord gives sight to the blind; the Lord raises up those who were bowed down.”
No greater explanation for the gospel miracles exists anywhere else, for all of the miracles described in all of the gospels are examples of the restoration of God’s reign, a reign we see at the beginning of Genesis in the Garden of Eden, a reign we catch glimpses of in all of the miracles performed in Christ’s name down through the centuries. In today’s gospel it is noteworthy that the deaf man does not approach Jesus on his own. Rather, the deaf man is brought to Jesus by friends who are convinced that if Jesus just “lay His hand on him” it will result in some unexplained improvement. Jesus takes him “off by himself away from the crowd;” miracles aren’t for show. At this point the miracle becomes very visceral, earthy. Jesus sticks His finger into the man’s ears, and “spitting, touched his tongue.” Jesus then cries to heaven, “Be opened!,” and “immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly.” Would the prayer and intention have been enough? Probably, but the God who became one of us and took on human flesh understood the need for tangible symbols.
We know so little about this blind individual. His anonymity reminds us that God’s love is lavished on all people, not just those with a name that might be important (the “fine clothes” versus “shabby clothes” contrast in our second reading) . That the man was cured in a Greek speaking part of the country shows that God’s love is not bound by ethnic boundaries. We can safely assume that the man’s life was changed for the better, but he may or may not have become one of Jesus’ followers. The important point is the one hinted at in our first reading – God’s reign is being established on earth. The astonished people were compelled to say, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
As readers and listeners of Mark’s gospel, we believe, too, that Jesus “has done all things well,” and in His short lifetime He has shown all those with the eyes of faith that God’s kingdom is surely in our midst. In the gospels Jesus will make the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the sick be healed, and the dead be raised, all signs that God has come into our world with “vindication.”
While the world we live in might be upsetting and in turmoil, we hear the words of Isaiah: “Be strong, fear not!” It is the reminder of what is recounted in the gospels, what was foretold by the prophets, and what is realized in Jesus, that helps us to understand what Jesus said at the very beginning of Mark’s gospel: “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news.” In spite of all the appearances to the contrary, may we never lose hope, and see in the world in which we live the same world that God entered into. That an anonymous man had his hearing restored is of no consequence to us, but that it was Jesus of Nazareth that restored it is of great consequence to us. We are called to so believe in the one God sent into our world, that, like the friends of the anonymous deaf man who brought him to Jesus, we, too, might bring others to come to know and to love Jesus, that Jesus might better and restore their lives, just as He has bettered and restored our lives.