23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B – 2018

FIRST READING            Isaiah 35:4-7a

Thus says the Lord:  Say to those whose hearts are frightened:  Be strong, fear not!  Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.  Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.  Streams will burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe.  The burning sands will become pools, and the thirsty ground, springs of water.

SECOND READING                  James 2:1-5

My brothers and sisters, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.  For if a man with gold rings and fine clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Sit here, please,” while you say to the poor one, “Stand there,” or “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs?  Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters.  Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him?

GOSPEL                Mark 7:31-37

Again Jesus left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis.  And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him.  He took him off by himself away from the crowd.  He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!”‑that is, “Be opened!”‑And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly.  He ordered them not to tell anyone.  But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it.  They were exceedingly astonished and they said, “He has done all things well.  He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

My sisters and brothers in the Lord,

Do we listen?  Are our ears open?  Do we speak the word of the Lord?  These are the questions that can be seen in the readings today.  We are invited to have our ears opened and to learn to speak God’s own words.

The first reading is from the Prophet Isaiah.  He tells the fainthearted—those who are uneasy about the word of God, whose hearts live in fear—“Be strong!  Fear not!”  Most of us who have faith are at least a bit shy about proclaiming that faith, especially when the world is so against faith right now.  Yet the Prophet Isaiah would tell us to have no fear, just proclaim God and God’s works.  Everything will change if we begin to proclaim the Word of God!  Our mute lips will speak, our tongues can speak aloud God’s glory.  We will be able to see the glory of the Lord.  The eyes of the blind will be opened.  All of these great works are a sign that God is present.

The second reading comes from the Letter of James.  “God chose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him.”  Again we have this testimony that God will work if we just walk with Him.  God does not choose the powerful and those who have the means to pay their way.  Instead God chooses the weak, the poor, those without capacity—and through them God proclaims the Kingdom of His love.  We often doubt this reality but once we begin to see everything through faith, we begin to recognize that power counts for nothing unless it is the power of love.  Our level in the society of this life counts for nothing.  What counts is a heart set on God and on doing God’s will.

The Gospel is from Saint Mark today and is about Jesus curing the man who had a speech impediment and who could not hear.  This echoes clearly the passage from the Prophet Isaiah.  And, of course, once Jesus heals this man, everyone wants to talk about it.  It is no longer a sign from God but is about extraordinary things happening.  We humans often prefer the circus to the hard realities of life.

What about us?  Do we help others speak?  Do we help others hear?  Do we direct others to God?  The early followers of Jesus recognized that Jesus was fulfilling the prophecies.  Do we recognize that?  Jesus does not go about saying:  “I am God, listen to me.”  Rather, Jesus goes about doing the works that proclaim that He is God.  Let us listen to Him and also open the mouths of others and help them see.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip