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THE SUNDAY LECTIONARY

TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

YEAR B: YEAR OF MARK


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READINGS

A reading from the prophet Isaiah                                         35:4-7                                       

Responsorial Psalm                                         Psalm 145:7-10.  R/. v.1

A reading from the letter of St James                         2:1-5  

A reading from the holy Gospel according to St Mark       7:31-37  

     

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Suppose someone comes into Mass, prosperous, well-dressed, his elegant wife on his arm, the two neat children walking confidently a step ahead.  Suppose they go to the very front and into the first row of seats marked with a brass plaque: reserved for the Smith family.  Would you suppose that you were in a Catholic church?

  Not so many years ago you would.  For we were a Church (like others) which promoted such distinctions even in communities of religious sisters and brothers.   

  And so it is to this day.  But now we make moral distinctions.  These days it’s not how rich you are but how holy you are.  If the misfortunes of life have afflicted you, we may let you into church.  But we won’t let you near the altar.

  If circumstances have forced the two of you to live together without the benefit of book and candle, if your marriage has failed and you have been blessed with a second love, if you have found a gay companion to share life’s journey, if you have limited your family by artificial means, if you can’t face confession because of what happened the last time you were there.  All of these “ifs” will keep you in your seat and you will be denied communion. No wonder you’ve stopped coming!

  It must cease to be so.  We need to be in communion with each other in our weaknesses and in our strengths, in our failures and in our loving care.  We, everyone one of us, are a holy people and a sinful people, a perfect people and an imperfect people. We are strong in faith one day and weak the next.  In our love we come to the altar and we need to do so. In our weakness we come to the altar for there we find faith, and hope, and strength. Each of us labour and are heavily burdened.  I hear the invitation Jesus offers:

Come to me,

all who labour and are heavily burdened,

            and

I will give you rest.

     Matthew 11:28

It is at the altar that we, in our weaknesses and strengths, become Jesus people.  You can’t make community without breaking bread.

  Today’s readings are about a God who heals, about a God who has sent his Son to meet our pain, to carry your crosses as he carried his own. It may take an eternity but God’s whole endeavor is to see us all safely home.  Our Church is where we learn to walk the way of God. It is where together we experience God’s helping hand, rejoicing with us in our days of joy, and bearing us up in our days of sin. It is because we are not perfect that we need each other and the community of our local church is where we learn God.  We learn that we are loved and we learn to love.

  We learn to forgive those who sin against us because in holy communion together we learn that we are forgiven.  In God’s coming to our aid we learn that we must come to the aid of those in need. There are no altar rails in God’s churches.   If Jesus believed in altar rails, no one would have got in to the Last Supper.



A reading from the prophet Isaiah                                            35:4-7                                       

Say to those who have an anxious heart,

Be strong; fear not!

Behold, your God

will come with vengeance,

with the recompense of God.

He will come and save you.

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,

and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

then shall the lame man leap like a deer,

and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.

For waters break forth in the wilderness,

and streams in the desert;

the burning sand shall become a pool,

and the thirsty ground springs of water.

The word of the LORD.

Isaiah speaks to exiled people, to people driven far from their land.    Isaiah promises that God will call the people home. The prophet imagines what joys lie in store, what delights await.  It will be like the days of old, like people coming out of a scorching desert into a promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey.  Not that the people have earned deliverance but because God is God and that is what God does.

 Every power that does people down will be removed.  The final word of Isaiah’s vision of God’s future for God’s people is this:

Crowned with joy everlasting,

they shall attain joy and gladness,

while sorrows and sighing flee.

Isaiah 35:10

The future belongs to God.  Our future is safe in God’s hands, not because we are good but because God is good and wants to see us - all of us -  safely home. The good, the bad, and the ugly are all God’s children. And, as Eugene O’Neill wrote long ago, all God’s chillun got wings!

  

Responsorial Psalm                           Psalm 145 (146):7-10.  R/. v.1

R/.  Praise the LORD, O my soul!

It is the LORD who keeps faith forever;

who executes justice for the oppressed,

It is the LORD who gives bread to the hungry.

                           The LORD sets the prisoners free.            R/.

The LORD opens the eyes of the blind.

The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;

the LORD loves the righteous.

                     The LORD watches over the stranger.             R/.

The LORD upholds the widow and the fatherless,

but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

The LORD will reign forever,

      your God, O Zion, for all generations.          

R/.  Praise the LORD, O my soul!

The second line of this psalm speaks of God’s justice.  The LORD acts justly for those who are oppressed.  We must be very careful here. When we say that God is just we are not talking about the Old Bailey and the statue on its top.  We are not saying that God weights up the evidence and takes out the scales of justice to put our good deeds in one scale and our bad deeds in the other scale.  Dump that picture out of your mind.

  The fact is that justice here means God’s justice, not human justice.  God’s justice is God being God. God ‘s justice is God being the God who is love, who is mercy, who is forgiveness, who must bring people home.  God’s justice does not weight up our sins. What God does is look into the deep well of his mercy and always - but always - comes up with a verdict in our favour.  Let me tell a parable, an old Jewish story.

A man died and found himself before God who was seated on the Seat of Judgement.  The man had a lifetime of sin and fell down before God in fear and trembling.  God sent for the recording angel who carried in the Book of Life.  In it was written an account of the man’s every sin.  Page after page, every sin was recorded and every sin was read out.  The man cringed lower and lower, trembling all the while as the story of his life unfolded.  God listened carefully.

   Then God said to himself, “If I sit here on the Seat of Judgement and listen to his sins I will have to destroy this miserable wretch of a human being”.

   So God got up and moved over to sit of the Seat of Mercy.

 

But what about the last lines of our responsorial psalm:

The LORD upholds the widow and the fatherless,

but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

Is this bad news for the wicked, bad news for us when we have, God help us, walked in the way of the wicked.  The answer is that the poet who wrote the psalm did not know Jesus. That poet lived in a time when there was no understanding that God’s love goes on forever, even when we have gone to the grave.  Death, as Jesus shows in his death, has lost its sting. God has an eternity to love us and some of us may need an eternity to know that we are always loved.  God’s steadfast love endures forever.

A reading from the letter of St James                         2:1-5  

My brothers and sisters, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?

The word of the LORD.

“My brothers and sisters …”

“Have you not then made distinctions?”

Please note that the “you” in this reading refers to the community, to all who are gathered around the table of the Lord.  He is talking, as it were, to the whole parish.

  Are you, as a parish, a stuck-up lot of people, the kind of parish that leaves the poor man at his gate?  That’s what James is getting at. Have you to be spiky clean to get into your church? Clean in in shoes and socks, not only in mind and heart, to fit in with you on Sunday morning?  Do you ever see the people who wear your castoffs in your church? Does your jumble sale ever walk down the aisle?

Read James’ words again and please note who it is that God has chosen.      

                                                

A reading from the holy Gospel according to St Mark       7:31-37  

Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak”.

The gospel of the LORD.

Mark’s geography may not be up to much but, even with his dodgy map, he gets us from one pagan territory (the region of Tyre and Sidon in 7:24), to another pagan territory, “the region of the Decapolis (in 7:31).  You will remember that this was the territory where Jesus met the Legion of demons who infested the man who wandered among the tombs and got drowned in the sea (in 5:1-19).

And they bring to him …

It is the present tense.  I wonder who “they “ are. You will recall that the man with the legion of demons became an apostle, sent by Jesus to tell them what God-in-Jesus had done for him (5:19-20).  Are we to understand that the “they” in today’s readings were the fruit of his preaching, the converts he made to faith in Jesus the Jew who came into their region and cast out all its demons?  My heart and my head tell me that they are. The deaf man with the impediment of speech is brought (protesting? eagerly?) to Jesus.

And they were begging him to lay his hands on him

Imagine them all shouting in enthusiastic prayer, their new-found faith, utterly confident, full of hope and joy.  Perhaps, the man who had that famous legion of demons was leading them to the man who gave him peace? Who knows? Sometimes you have to let your heart read the story.

  Just as with the Legion of demons incident this is no simple healing.  Jesus takes the man aside. He puts his fingers into his ears and spittle on his tongue.  He looks up to the heavens, he sighs, and he says to the man “Ephphatha!”, “Open up!”. And the  man’s ears were opened and his tongue was loosed and he spoke clearly.

And Jesus charged them …

Jesus orders them to tell no one … .  Not just the healed man but everyone. Some hope.  

  This is a constant feature of Mark’s Gospel.  He is always telling people whom has heals and people who witness his healings, to be silent, not to broadcast the matter.  And as often as he does so, they shout it from the roof-tops, as they do here. This is a bit of a puzzle.

  It may be that Mark is telling us who read his story that we must not shout out the wonders of Jesus until we stand at the foot of the cross and witness his greatest wonder.  Until we understand that it is this Jesus, the Son of God, gives his life for all. Each healing that Jesus makes is a mirror wherein we can see what God-in-Jesus is doing for us.  It is this love of God that comes to all humanity in this man from Nazareth. We are invited to join in their song, in the song of our fathers and mothers in faith, who brought this unfortunate man to Jesus and went away singing,

He has done all things well!

Joseph O’Hanlon

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