Scripture readings: Isaiah 35:4-7; Letter of James 2:1-5; Gospel According to Saint Mark 7:31-37
In the Gospel today, Jesus cures a deaf man who also has a speech impediment. Freedom from bondage of various kinds is an important sign of the Messianic age which Jesus came to inaugurate and fulfill. The prophet Isaiah spoke of such freedom, recounted in the first reading for this Sunday’s Mass: “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf will be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.”
It is beautiful imagery expressing in human language how God desires to extend help and care to all people. This is the underlying theme of all of Sacred Scripture, the Bible. Christians believe God’s love was expressed in a marvelous and unparalleled way with the birth and saving deeds of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.
In his earthly sojourn and ministry, Jesus extended special concern and care for many, especially those on the margins of society, the sick and the sinners. He seems to have been regularly in their midst and to them Jesus dedicated the first of the eight beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” The parables of Jesus are filled with notions of the mercy of God, especially extended to those who seemed to be lost or unwell.
The poor and needy are dear to God not because they are better or worse than others, but because they need God’s help in a special way. God is good, compassionate and the supreme defender of the downtrodden and dispossessed, so they can take special comfort and joy in the knowledge of God’s care. That same confidence should characterize all God’s people, but it seems so often something that almost naturally is part of those in particular need.
The Good News of Jesus Christ is about freedom from oppression and finding fulfillment in God alone, not in things. It is a spiritual journey we tread and the rewards are spiritual, not a larger bank account, a bigger home or a three-car garage.
Jesus announced a Kingdom that is not of this world. At the time of Jesus people were looking for someone with extreme political power and clout, a messiah who would overthrow the Roman oppressors in those days. Jesus came for something else, of course: God’s Reign or Kingdom of peace and righteousness, eternal salvation, accomplished in God’s way and time.
It would be a grave error to confuse the demands of the Gospel with socio-political agendas, yet at the same time we are people of time and space, of a social and economic context, but hastening toward our heavenly homeland at the same time, living by the Gospel and not the “ways of the world,” as it is sometimes expressed.
The spiritual life is often in contrast to the ways of being and acting that characterize people who have no thought of the transcendent nature of God and the Kingdom of God. Jesus was sent and always chose to be, the voice of God’s love. According to Jesus, authentic love in rooted in God and the only force capable of transforming human relations and institutions.
The armed violence characteristic of the Zealot party at that time was not the way of Jesus, nor for that matter the global terrorism so prevalent in the modern world. Rather, Jesus resisted violence and preached peace, reconciliation and love at all times.
The Spanish Carmelite mystic, Saint John of the Cross, who died in 1591, expressed the basic message of Christ with this important thought: where there is no love, put love, and there you will find love. That idea can be as true today as it was in centuries past.
According to Jesus, the transformation most needed has to be grounded in God’s love, extended to others and flowing from the spirit of the beatitudes. Truly blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted for righteousness’ sake. These are the ones who attain fullness of life and real happiness.
Although he cured many during his public ministry, notice that Jesus did not do away with sickness or infirmity once and for all. Nor did he eliminate hunger, though feeding many, nor did he end ignorance or illiteracy while teaching and preaching to many people. In fact, Jesus told Judas that the poor would be among us always. That is also the point of the parable of the wheat and the darnel (weeds) growing side by side. Who is to say who among us is the wheat and who is the darnel? We might like to speculate about it, but really it is in God’s hands to determine such, and our part is to desire and strive to be among the wheat. Maybe in fact sometimes we tend toward the weeds and other times toward the wheat. That shouldn’t surprise us.
The parable of the wheat and the weeds is not about the completely corrupt and the completely saintly living side by side, though in fact we do rub shoulders with the less than perfect and they with me, who is also less than perfect. The point of the parable is the daily call to continual repentance, that is, to change!
An important vow of us Benedictines is “conversatio morum,” usually translated as, conversion of life, understood as a life-long endeavor of striving to conform more and more to the likeness of God in whose image we are all created.
There are certainly inequalities among people in the world today, often the result of injustice, and Christ is not promoting this. There are also differences among peoples that are the fruits of different aptitudes, talents, hard work or the opposite, such as laziness. These realities God does not normally remove, as they belong more to the realm of personal freedom and choice, what we usually call free will, something which cannot be taken away from us.
The Vatican II document, on the Church, “Lumen Gentium,” states: “By her relationship with Christ, the Church is a kind of sacrament of intimate union with God, and of the unity of all humanity, that is, the Church is a sign and an instrument of such union and unity” (LG 1).
This means that the Church must relate and announce to all, rich and poor alike, that God is among us, that we are all called to life in Christ. The visible world as we know it is temporary and we are destined for something greater, “life on high” in Christ Jesus, as Saint Paul describes it in writing to the Philippians (chapter 3, verse 14).
“Just as Christ carried out the work of redemption in poverty and under oppression, so the Church is called to follow the same path in communicating to the world the fruits of salvation” (Lumen Gentium 8).
A commentary on this passage from Lumen Gentium points out that the comparison of Christ and the Church reminds us that Christ’s Body on earth, the Church, like her Lord, should not be seeking to be served but to serve. Unlike Christ, the Church is composed of people who are not divine, hence there is frailty, selfishness and sin to be found among people. There is always need of purification of God’s people and active engagement with God’s love, surrendering to it as the only power that ultimately will save the world.
Every serious follower of Jesus Christ goes through the life-long process of self-emptying and reorientation to selfless love, something as important today as it was to the first followers of the Lord.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB