Saturday, September 5, 2009

23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time –Year B – (6th September, 2009)

23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time –Year B – (6th September, 2009)
(Isaiah 35.4-7: James 2.1-5: Mark 7.31-37)
by Jim Kirstein, SMA

One time I was watching a football match on television. With me were two friends, both of whom smoked about 50 cigarettes daily. Several times they had been warned to give up or at least reduce the number of cigarettes they smoked. But they just didn’t hear or want to hear this. Then the younger one aged about 50 got a slight heart attack. His doctor offered him a clear choice, to give up smoking or die within 6 months. That shocked him and he immediately did what he said he thought he could never have done. He stopped smoking. At that moment the doctor’s warning opened his ears to hear in a way he didn’t hear before. Sad to say my other friend didn’t want to hear the doctor’s advice and he died not too long afterwards of a massive heart attack. By the way this is not an anti-smoking campaign on my part!

In the gospel today Jesus meets a man who is deaf and also has an impediment in his speech. It is his friends who bring him to Jesus. We note the sensitivity and gentleness of Jesus. He takes the man apart in order to cure him. He deals with the man in a very personal and caring way. He doesn’t want to embarrass him. He didn’t treat him as if he were just another case, but rather as a unique individual. He shows him great respect.

But more than a physical healing Jesus allows him to go back into society freed to participate in all social and religious activities. At the time of Jesus deafness and the inability to speak were seen as punishments from God. In healing him Jesus gives him back his religious and social rights and so the man ceases to be marginalised.

Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. We need God to touch our ears in order to be able to hear his word and we need him to touch our tongues in order to be able to profess our faith. Do we pray for this? We must remember too that every time we listen to God’s Word at the Eucharist we open ourselves up to this possibility if we allow it to influence us. We also touch the Body of Christ and allow him to touch us in Holy Communion.

It goes without saying what wonderful gifts are those of speech and healing. It is good to reflect how well we use them. Today we know that many people are lonely and have a great need to be able to speak to someone. It maybe an elderly person, a child with a problem, or someone who needs a shoulder to lean on. How good are we at listening to others?

In the text neither the man nor his friends get a name suggesting that the man stands for all of us who need to have our ears opened by God to hear what keeps us enslaved and to free us from things that harm us. A community open to and really hearing the word of God must show solidarity with those who suffer physically and socially.

In the gospel text we see too that Jesus has crossed the borders from the land of the Jews into what was known as pagan territory e.g. Tyre and the Decapolis . He did this to bring the Good News to non-Jews, saying that God wishes to heal and care for all peoples irrespective of religious or other labels. Maybe it is an invitation to us to cross the borders to those who do not belong to us socially or religiously, like refugees from other lands or people from other religions.

The word ‘Ephphatha’ means ‘be opened’ and recalls the sacrament of baptism. It is a beautiful and simple part of the baptism liturgy when the priest touches the ears and mouth of the newly baptized and prays that soon that the word of God will be heard and proclaimed.

So how do we hear? Have we really heard his message yet? For example, the Second Reading from James speaks about the way we treat different people in our society. Do we show more respect and honour to those well off, the educated, the rich compared to how we treat the poor, immigrants? Are we totally free of discrimination in the areas of race, religion, sex, class, occupation etc? Our attitudes to these questions will show how much we really have heard the Word of God.

A certain man belonging to the nobility or upper classes decided to become a Catholic. His mother who was a devout Anglican herself had no problem with his becoming a Catholic as such but what bothered her was the idea that he would now have to worship on the same level, in the same seats as their servants who came from the lower classes. Class distinction leads to double standards and should have no place among Christians. Christians need to challenge these false standards, and not allow themselves to be lured into conforming to them.

Although Jesus tried to restrain the man in today’s gospel from proclaiming everywhere he went what had happened, he didn’t succeed. All who heard it were full of admiration and they said of Jesus: "He has done all things well." Wouldn’t be great if that could be said of us? At least, we hope we are getting closer to this behaviour in our daily lives.

If we are really excited about the Good News of Jesus Christ and about having the Christian vision of life, then we would want to do exactly the same, above all by our way of living. Most of you do this when bringing up your children in the faith and teaching them to live by Christian values by trying to live as true followers of Jesus. Do we need to be more conscious of our vocation as Christians?

"Lord Jesus, open our ears to hear and respond to your Word and to witness to it especially in our behaviour and attitudes. Amen".

(Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA. 1st September, 2009)

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