09Sep 9th September. 23rd Sunday

1st Reading: Isaiah (35:4-7)

Those who fear the future may take heart, for God will save his people

Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the desert, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

Resp. Psalm (Ps 146)

R.: Praise the Lord, my soul

The God of Jacob keeps faith forever,
secures justice for the oppressed,
gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets captives free. (R./)

The Lord gives sight to the blind;
the Lord raises up those who were bowed down.
The Lord loves the just;
the Lord protects strangers. (R./)

The fatherless and the widow the Lord sustains,
but the way of the wicked he thwarts.
The Lord shall reign forever;
your God, O Zion, through all generations.
Alleluia. (R./)

2nd Reading: Epistle of James (2:1-5)

Class distinction has no place , for God champions the poor in the world

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?

Gospel: Mark (7:31-37)

Jesus heals a man who was deaf and dumb

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way, Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.

Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”


The distinctions we make

This morning  St James calls on church members not to show favour on the basis of wealth or social class, or to defer only to the better off. How well he knew human nature! It can be hard to avoid favoritism and not to show partiality. Invariably we tend to favour some over others, to care for some and not others. A man chooses one woman to be his wife out of several he may have come to know. A woman chooses one man to be her husband. We choose our friends, and some people choose their friends carefully. Parents will mostly favour their own children over any other children. It is natural and human to make distinctions.

This morning’s gospel shows a more generous side to human nature. A man who was deaf and voiceless was brought to Jesus by his friends. In those days, and even today, not to be able to hear or speak was a woeful burden. Such people who could not be communicated with in any meaningful way were virtually invisible. But this man was fortunate to have people who cared about him enough to bring him to Jesus who had a reputation as a healer.

The care Jesus gave to this man is striking. He takes the man away from the crowd and gives his his full  attention. Although the man was deaf and dumb he still has his sense of touch, so Jesus touches the man’s ears, then wets the man’s tongue with his own spittle. Then he prayed for him, that God that give new life to this poor man. Jesus invests himself in a very personal way with this man’s well-being… And it is worth noting that the man was a pagan, not a Jew. The region (Decapolis) where this story is set was predominantly pagan. Jesus favoured the voiceless and the afflicted, whether they were Jew or pagan.

The man’s friends can also be an inspiration to us. They brought their friend to Jesus, hoping he could be cured.  Even when the man was voiceless, his friends heard the longings of his heart, and their listening led to his cure. Their care led them to speak on his behalf. If they had not felt compassion, they would not have taken the initiative to speak up for him. If we are to do our own share in the Lord’s healing work, we need to be keenly aware of other people’s need, and then ask ourselves what we could do on their behalf.


 The humanity of Jesus

1. Mark wrote the earliest of the four Gospels, the one that brings us closest to the humanity of Jesus. Unlike the other Gospel-writers he sometimes tells us what Jesus was thinking or feeling. In particular, he has two miracle stories that show Jesus’s healing activity as involving a struggle and an element of trial-and-error. In both cases Jesus uses healing techniques that were common at the time, such as the use of saliva. In the healing of a blind man from Bethsaida (Mk 8:22-26), a story not used in the Sunday lectionary, he leads the blind man out of the village (to avoid showy publicity?) and brings him to a place of quietness. Then he spits on the man’s eyes and touches them, and asks if he can see; the blind man answers “I see men, walking around like trees”. Jesus touches the eyes again, perhaps repeating the whole operation, and this time the man sees everything clearly.
In today’s story the people ask Jesus to “lay his hands” on the deaf man — referring to the common gesture of healers. Jesus again takes the man aside, touches his ears with his fingers, and his tongue with his spittle. Then he looks up to heaven and sighs or groans deeply. Mark’s Jesus reacts to illness and infirmity not by lightly brushing them aside but with a compassion that feels their full weight, and his healing is rooted in that compassion

2. The word of healing is given in Aramaic, the actual spoken language of Jesus, which is heard as well in “Talitha kum” to the daughter of Jairus (Mk 5:41) [and also in”Eloi eloi lama sabachthani” (Mk 15:34)]. Such healing words were thought to lose their power when translated into another language. Their dramatic force is increased for us by the feeling of being brought closer to the original atmosphere of the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth.

3. At the end of stage one in the story of the blind man, the man sees, but not clearly. In today’s story the man can speak, but not clearly. The Greek word that Mark uses, mogilalos means a speech impediment rather than absolute dumbness. It is a rare word occurring in only one other place in the Greek Bible, precisely in today’s first reading, in the phrase “the tongue of the speechless.” Perhaps these stories have a special relevance to Christians today, who are not so much absolutely blind or dumb as suffering from a condition of blurred vision and impeded speech. People who wear glasses will appreciate how the finest details become marvelously clear when they put their glasses on. We need the same kind of clarity in regard to our faith. As to clarity of speech, we are often mealy-mouthed or tongue-tied when it comes to sharing the vision of faith. “Woe to those who are silent concerning You,” said St Augustine, “for in their loquacity they remain dumb.” “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” said St Paul. Let us ask Jesus to touch our eyes and our tongue that we may see him more clearly and speak of him more clearly.

4. The healings of the dumb man and the blind man are presented by Mark as Messianic signs. In the last sentence of today’s gospel, “He has done all things well” could mean “he has well fulfilled the Messianic prophecies.” The amazement of the crowd is not merely at the healings themselves but at their Messianic significance. They begin to wonder whether Jesus could be the long-promised Anointed One, who is to bring in a new age. In Mark, Jesus keeps his Messiah-hood a secret, but it begins to leak out in spite of his commands to tell no one. Some, notably St Peter, have a glimpse of Jesus’s Messianic identity, but they only half understand, and soon fall into crude misinterpretations, thinking of power and fame rather than the way, the Cross. The full revelation of Christ as Messiah is withheld until after his death and resurrection. Can we recognize in Jesus, in his humanity that is so close to ours, the Messiah, the Christ of God? More than that, since he promised that his disciples can do the same signs as he did (Mk 16:17-18; Jn 14:12), can we too, in our human weakness, become channels of the healing power of God?


[José Antonio Pagola]

The healing of a deaf-mute in the pagan region of Sidon is told by Mark with a clearly pedagogical intention. The man has a special sickness. He can neither hear nor talk. He lives closed in on himself, not communicating to anyone. He doesn’t know that Jesus is passing near him. It takes others to bring him to the Prophet.

What Jesus does is special also. He doesn’t lay hands on him as they’ve asked, but he takes him away and leads him to a place far from the people. There he works intensely, first on his ears and then on his tongue. He wants the sick man to feel his healing touch. Only a deep encounter with Jesus could heal him of a deafness that is so hard to remove. It seems that all his efforts are for nothing. The deafness persists. Then Jesus turns to the Father, source of all salvation: looking up to heaven, he sighs and shouts a single word to the sick man: Epphetá, that is, «Be opened». This is the only word Jesus pronounces in the whole story. It’s not directed to the ears of the deaf man, but to his heart.

Undoubtedly Mark wants this phrase «Be opened» to resound forcefully in the Christian communities that will read his story. He knows well how easy it is to go about deaf to God’s Word. How many there are today who don’t open themselves up to the Good News of Jesus or speak to anyone about their faith. Deaf-mute communities who seldom listen to the Gospel and hardly communicate it at all. Maybe one of the most serious sins of Christians today is this deafness. We don’t stop to listen to Jesus’ Gospel. We don’t live with an open heart to welcome his words. That’s why we don’t know how to listen patiently and compassionately to so many who suffer, those who scarcely receive anyone’s kindness and attention.

One sometimes feels that the Church, sent by Jesus to announce his Good News, goes on her merry way, forgetting the concrete life of people’s worries, fears, occupations, and hopes. If we don’t listen well to the calls from Jesus, we won’t put words of hope into the life of those who suffer. There’s something paradoxical if we speak great truths, but don’t touch people’s hearts. Something like this is happening in these times of crisis. Society isn’t waiting for the «religious doctrine» of experts, but does listen attentively to a lucid word inspired by Jesus’ Gospel, when it’s pronounced by a group of people who patently care about others.

Machtnamh: Fíorchairde nuair atá gáth orthu (True friends in need)

Is féidir le cairde an duine bodhar sa soiscéal an lae inniu a bheith ina inspioráid dúinn. Thug siad a chara le Íosa le feiceáil an bhféadfaí é a leigheas. D’éirigh leo labhairt le Íosa ar son an duine seo a bheith in ann labhairt arís, ag teacht guth a bheith aige féin. Fiú amháin nuair a bhí sé gan guth, chuala a chairde leis an gcroí a bhí ag a chroí, agus mar thoradh ar a gcuid éisteachta éisteacht dó féin. Thug a gcúram dó air a labhairt orthu thar a cheann. Mura n-éist siad leis an gcéad uair, níor ghlac siad an tionscnamh chun labhairt dó. D’fhonn ár gcuid féin a dhéanamh in obair saoil an Tiarna, ní mór dúinn tosú ag éisteacht ag éisteacht le duine éigin eile, ag éisteacht leis an duine agus ní hamháin leis na focail a labhraíonn siad.

2 Responses

  1. Dermot foley

    Many thanks to all who share their reflections on the Sunday Mass readings. They are so nourishing for my personal life.

  2. Patricia Gamgort, OSB

    I thought today’s homilies were exceptional. Thanks.

Scroll Up