FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time ( B )
Isaiah 35:4-7a | Psalm 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10 | James 2:1-5 | Mark 7:31-37
The scripture for this Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time from Isaiah, James and Mark, brings us a message of hope, healing and restoration.
Alejo is walking down Paradise Beach in Bantayan Island and comes across an antique bottle. He picks it up, pulls out the cork and out pops Fayzal, a genie! Delighted, the genie says, "Thank you for freeing me from my prison. I shall grant you three wishes for your goodness.” After thinking a moment, Alejo says "Great! I always dreamed of this and I know exactly what I want. First, I want ₱11 trillion in a Swiss bank account" (That's the total amount of the national debt of the Philippines as of June 2021). Poof! There is a flash of light and a piece of paper with account numbers appears in his hand! He continues, "Next, I want a red 2020 Ferrari 812 Superfast right here." Poof! There is a flash of light and a bright red prancing horse wheels appear right next to him. Faysal tells him to think very carefully about his one last wish. After thinking a moment, Alejo continues, "I want the whole Philippines to be connected by a highway". "Sorry Master Alejo, it's technically impossible to engineer such a highway. Ask something else", Faysal replied. "Well then, I want the president to fulfill even half of the big promises he made during his campaign," he asked. To this the genie replied, "Alejo, do you want that highway, 8 or 10 lanes? Concrete or asphalt? Come on, let's discuss details."
The words of the Prophet Isaiah were written in a challenging time for the People of Israel. The Northern kingdom of Israel had been conquered by the Assyrians and the people taken into exile. Those in Judah, the Southern kingdom, were enslaved. Then, the Babylonians conquered the Assyrians and things went from bad to worse. They were poor, miserable, banished and humiliated but then the Lord, through the Prophet Isaiah, showed that he cares for them, they are his people whom he loves and he is coming soon to liberate and restore them. Here, Isaiah seems to mean that no matter what kind of mess or difficulty we are in, God will come to save us. He is capable of changing everything. He opens the eyes of the blind and unplugs the ears of the deaf. The lame will leap like a deer, and those who cannot speak will sing for joy. God transforms even the earth with streams bursting forth in the desert, burning sands become pools and springs of water in thirsty ground. In other words, God promises to renew his people and bring them new life.
Ruben, a young man was searching for the meaning of life and he framed a question for Nirmal Kaur, a guru, he was visiting. “How can I tell when it is day? Is it when I see an animal in the distance and I can tell that it is a sheep or a goat?” The wise man replied, “No!” “Is it when I see a tree and I can tell that it is Papaya or Mango?” “No, not at all!” “Then I cannot guess,” said Ruben, “you will have to tell me.” “It is when you look into the face of any man and know that he is your brother, and any woman and know that she is your sister. If you cannot do this, then it is still night, no matter what the clock says!”
How often do we fall prey to the temptation to immediately judge someone by external appearances? James was writing to a community that apparently separated the ins from the outs by their dress, a detail even less revealing about a person than their ancestry, height, weight or color of skin. He sternly warns against all forms of discrimination between classes of people. It’s easy to treat people differently because of how they dress or how much money they make or what kind of car they drive or what their personality is like. But each person, regardless of the external factors, is a human being with equal dignity and infinite worth. We are all equal in God’s sight and must act accordingly. We are all heirs to his kingdom. This kingdom is made manifest around the Eucharistic table, where rich and poor alike are invited to feast. For those of us baptized into Christ, there cannot be any judgment of worthiness of another to be in our company, to be part of our communities of faith. Our call and our behavior is to be open to all.
Two young boys Marjo and Marvin were spending the night at their grandparents house the week before Christmas. At bedtime, the two boys knelt beside their beds to say their prayers. Marvin, the younger one began praying at the top of his lungs: “I PRAY FOR A SAMSUNG GALAXY TAB A7...” “I PRAY FOR Playstation 5...” His older brother Marjo leaned over, nudged him and said, “Why are you shouting? God isn’t deaf.” to which Marvin replied, “No, but Grandma is!”
Today is another healing Gospel. “Ephphatha! Be opened!” Jesus says to the man who was deaf and mute. We might ask where we fit in this story. Notice that the man himself did not approach Jesus. Mark tells us that some unnamed people brought the deaf man to Jesus. Probably it was the man’s friends or family who brought him to our Lord and they begged Jesus to heal the man. Jesus does not immediately heal the man. It is significant that Jesus drew the man away from the crowd in order to heal him and restore him to full communion with his family and neighbors. Perhaps Jesus realizes that the man does not want a “show.” And most likely, Jesus did not want to be a “showman.” Jesus was a man of love and compassion. He wanted the man to experience only love, acceptance and healing that comes from God, instead of the rejection, blame, shame and derision that he might experience from the people around him. He simply desired to make the man “whole” once again. And he did so. The sign that Jesus is the promised Saviour is that he first goes to the poor, the sick, the marginalized people, for they need him most. “Ephphatha! Be opened!” Jesus wants us to be opened to relationships that go beyond impersonal charity (writing a check) or abstract goodwill (praying for others). “Ephphatha! Be opened!” Jesus challenges us to enter into the messy but mutually life-changing, intimate act of accompaniment and personal encounter. “Ephphatha! Be opened!” Jesus invites us to be opened to a surprising God who chooses those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith. “Ephphatha! Be opened!” Jesus calls us to be opened to an abundant God who clears a path for what was once shut out. “Ephphatha! Be opened!” Jesus comes to open our ears and mouths to the words and deeds of God, that we may listen to his message and respond to his love, and that we may also hear the poor and speak to them with our help. Let Jesus in the Eucharist heal us and commit us to God and people. <enrique,ofs>
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum