Sunday, 30 August 2009

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B

Isaiah 35:4-7; James 2:1-5; Mark 7:31-37

The opening lines of the gospel show us something typically true about Jesus, namely, he is always travelling. Up and down through Palestine he goes, through towns and villages, one after the other, pausing only for brief periods to pray alone with his Apostles or to visit friends.

In contrast we observe so many of the self-proclaimed 'gurus' of our day who are hidden away with their followers in compounds, barricaded behind high security gates with guards and minders. Jesus was not like this; his mission was the world.

Jesus was a man for all, as God is for all. If, at times, Jesus hid himself from the crowds it was mostly to strengthen himself with prayer for the arduous teaching and healing journeys which lay ahead of him.

And so he is travelling when a man is brought to him.

On TV the other night there was a show about a strongman. They brought him a phone book, a big heavy one and asked him to tear it in half. He took it, but then first gave it back to them to try it so that they could all see how weak they were. Then in front of them all, because this was all about him and his powers, he tore the book apart. The applause was deafening.

So they brought Jesus a man, a deaf man with an impediment in his speech, and they asked Jesus to heal him, to lay his hands on him. They brought Jesus a man .. they asked Jesus to heal him .. . My evangelising antennae are up and buzzing; I would love to have them (whoever they were) in my parish - people who bring people to Jesus.

The crowd is usually not very helpful to Jesus, in fact, it often gets in the way, blocking the door to the house for the paralytic, obscuring Zacchaeus' view and making him climb a tree, telling poor Bartimaeus to keep quiet... . This is a man not a phone book and Jesus takes him aside in private, away from the crowd.

Notice how Mark insists on this action of Jesus by repeating it three times - Jesus took him aside, in private, away from the crowd.

This is not a performance - this is GOD AT WORK!

The deaf and dumb man, like all those in the gospels who are brought, or who come to Jesus for healing, represents at the same time each one of us and poor suffering humanity as a whole. In this way the gospel operates at a number of different levels of meaning and effectiveness and fruitfully sustains our meditation.

As Jesus stands alone with the man, holding his face between his hands to heal him, we can see Jesus embracing the whole of creation in his tender touch, gazing with profound compassion into our eyes, longing to heal us all.

And also that man is me. The Master clasps my face in his divine hands and looks into my eyes, seeing all my need for healing, liberation and redemption.

The deaf mute cannot hear him and so he communicates his intentions through touch. He puts his fingers into the man's ears. Is Jesus thinking: It is not just to my voice I want to open your ears but to my word?

Then Jesus takes some spittle from his mouth and places it on the man's tongue. Is Jesus thinking: Soon I will be able to place on your tongue not just my spittle so that you may speak but my whole self, body, blood, soul and divinity so that you may live forever.

Jesus looks up and gazes heavenward, communing with his Father. I do only what I see my Father doing, I do the works I was sent to do.

He sighed and spoke the word ephphatha which itself sounds like a sigh.

As the Father had created in the beginning with the words: Let there be light ... and there was light, so now Jesus recreates, restores, redeems with the words: Be opened ... and his ears were opened. Jesus has spoken - God has spoken.

The works I do in my Father's name are my witness (John 10:25) ...and whatever the Father does the Son does too. (John 5:19)

Their admiration was unbounded, and so is ours. We praise God for sending his only Son among us to seek us out and restore us to his Father and ours. He has done all things well.

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