23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Let us pray…

In this time and in any time, our deepest hope,

our most tender prayer,

is that we learn to listen.

May we listen to one another in openness and mercy.

May we listen to plants and animals in wonder and respect.

May we listen to our own hearts in love and forgiveness.

May we listen to God in quietness and awe.

And in this listening, which is boundless in its beauty,

may we find the wisdom to cooperate with the healing Spirit, the divine Spirit,

beckoning us into peace and community and creativity.

We do not ask for a perfect world.

But we do ask for a better world.

We ask for the gift and the grace of deep listening.  AMEN

1st Reading – Isaiah 35: 4-7a

This section of the Book of Isaiah was added to the earlier part of the book. It probably is prompted by the Babylonian exile which brought great fear and despair to the people whose country now lay in ruins and many of the people were back in slavery. The writer of Second Isaiah wants to inject hope and fearlessness born of faith: a trust in the God who “will come with vindication.” It speaks for all of us who believe in a God who is greater than all evil and whose grace is more powerful than any affliction.  (Celebration, Sept. 2006)

Brother David Steindl-Rast in gratefulness, the heart of prayer talks about the difference between hope and hopes.  Hopes are for a particular thing, while hope is a virtue, a way of being.  Hope does not depend on hopes, because hopes don’t always work out.  Hopes can even get in the way of hope.  It makes a world of difference where we put our weight – on those hopes out there ahead of us, or on the hope that is within.  A person of hope will have a whole array of lively hopes.  But those hopes do not tell us much.  The showdown comes when all the hopes get shattered.  Then, a person of hopes will get shattered with them.  A person of hope, however, will be growing a new crop of hopes as soon as the storm is over.  Do you want to be a person of hopes or hope?

2nd Reading – James 2: 1-5

James is trying to move us away from our common tendency to favoritism. As Peter states in Acts (10:35) God shows no partiality and Paul says in Galatians (3:28) that we are all one in Christ Jesus – so James is encouraging the same idea. At this time, while by far most of the Christians were poor and just about all were powerless politically, they were a diverse social group. Jews and Gentiles, women and men, slave and free – and the rich and poor – all came together – and they were to come together in love. This was a challenge. It still is.

From Understanding God’s Word, September 10, 2006:

When God chooses the poor, it is not to set up a new, inverted pecking order. It is meant to eliminate the pecking order altogether. God gives privilege to the marginalized to abolish privilege. The biblically poor are not just those who are economically poor; it is anyone who lacks the power to protect their interests against misfortune (Who can we think of today?).  James’ advice gets set in Catholic Social Justice teaching with the phrase: ‘God’s preferential option for the poor’. Showing the poor this preferential option does not mean making them more dependent on others. It is about empowering them to stand on their own two feet, in love and dignity. This is what James means by calling the poor ‘heirs’ of the kingdom.

Notice the word LISTEN.  We must truly hear one another and be in open dialogue for change to happen and have a world with no partiality.  Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, says, “Deep listening is the kind of listening that can relieve the suffering of the other person.” 

The Gospel – Mark 7: 31-37

Helen Keller, much like the poor man in the gospel today, had been trapped in blindness and silence until her teacher, Annie Sullivan, broke open the world for her. Annie’s infinite patience, touch, and breathing-presence slowly, but eventually, revealed the world to Helen. Christ is that for all of us. He is that voice of the loving mother/father/teacher who calls us out of fear, darkness, chaos and frustration to freedom, thought, self-expression and an awareness of love. But it is not easy to be led out of darkness. We need to trust in the voice of love, the gentle, beckoning, patient voice of our God-in-Christ. (Ron Rolheiser, “In Exile,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

Mark gives further meaning to this story by where he places it in the overall gospel narrative. Throughout Mark’s gospel the disciples have been ‘deaf’ to Jesus’ word – lacking ‘insight’ and understanding. They and many others have been unable to make any confession of faith about him, Eventually, however, at Caesarea Philippi (after the feeding of 4,000, the blindness and deafness of the Pharisees, and the healing of another blind man at Bethsaida) their ears are opened, their tongues are released, and they speak clearly about Jesus as the Messiah through Peter, the spokesman.  But even here their faith is limited and blind when Jesus talks of suffering and rejection.  Jesus will have to walk with them further, talking, cajoling, correcting, and healing . . . Only on the cross will Jesus and God’s love be fully revealed. (Reginald Fuller, http://liturgy.slu.edu )

In the Middle Eastern culture, spitting was a common precaution against evil. Traditional healers routinely used this strategy to ward off evil and thus heal. Hands were also the customary way that any therapeutic power was transmitted.  Also, the word, ephphatha, is an original Aramaic word. This was the language that Jesus would have used. It was believed that the actual word itself had power. So it was remembered and recorded.  (John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

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