September 6: 23rd Sunday Ordinary Time Year B
Readings: Isaiah 35:4-7; James 2:1-5; Mark 7:31-37
This Sunday, the readings invite us to celebrate the Lord of compassion and inclusiveness. The three readings point to God’s universal table fellowship, where all are treated equally without distinction. The first reading from the prophet Isaiah highlights the imminent return of the Israelites from the Babylonian exile. Isaiah prophesies what the Lord in his compassion will soon do for his people. Their broken hearts will be healed and their dignity as a nation restored. Isaiah uses the image of healing and restoration of all creation in God’s justice and care. Thus “streams will burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe.” The Gospel passage is a fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy in Christ: opening the ears of the deaf and loosening the tongues of the dumb. The liturgy of the word therefore presents a compassionate God, who makes no distinctions between classes of people by breaking existing barriers, symbolized by the impediment of speech and hearing; a God who makes the poor rich in faith. God’s action leads us to see Isaiah’s prophesy in the context of suffering in the world caused by sickness, poverty, and oppression.
Isaiah’s prophecy predicts happier and better times to come, when God will destroy all barriers: the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame leap like lambs, and the dumb will speak. While both Isaiah and the Gospel point to physical healing, the ailments listed are also symbolic of interior suffering, consisting often of blindness to the needs of the neighbor, the inability to hear God’s voice or to speak words of praise and compassion. While walking through the Ten Cities Region (Decapolis), people bring to Jesus a deaf and dumb person asking him to heal him. The point of the miracle becomes a metaphor for the healing of all God’s people without exception. The deaf and dumb person, like the people in the gospels who are brought, or who come to Jesus for healing, represents each one of us and poor suffering humanity as a whole. That image of Jesus standing alone with the person, holding his face between his hands to heal him, is an image of God embracing the whole of creation in his tender touch, gazing with profound compassion into the eyes of each of us, longing to heal us all of our deafness and our speech impediment. We are therefore challenged to follow the same example. James in the Second Reading challenges us when he speaks with irony of people who welcome the well dressed with gold rings, while ignoring the poor man, who is poor only in the eyes of this world but rich before God who makes no distinctions. On the contrary, God breaks all barriers and calls all to the universal table fellowship of the kingdom. The questions we need to ask are: do we in our parish community have wounds of division that need to be healed? Do we have members who feel excluded? So what message do we take home? 1) The readings challenge every diocese and every parish community, to exercise compassion towards members that belong to minority groups who feel excluded. 2); Just as in the Gospel, Jesus longs to take us aside to heal us of our deafness that we may hear his word and heal our dumbness that we may speak to him in prayer. 3) You and I are healed on blindness and deafness that we may bring healing to others with God’s compassion.
©2009 John M. Mbinda