23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time: Year B.
Commentary Theme for this Sunday:
“Jesus Cures the Deaf and the Dumb.”
Are we sometimes ‘Deaf and Dumb’ to the Word of God and to the Poor?
The first reading uses the image of the deaf and dumb man to show what God would one day do for his people. The Israelites had shut their ears and no longer listened to what the Lord wanted to tell them. But one day God would cure their deafness.
The second reading stresses this theme as it tells us what happens to a community that is deaf to the word of God and to the voice of the poor.
By describing the healing done by Jesus, the Gospel shows that the messianic times promised in the first reading have come. The ears of the people are now opened to listen and their tongues loosened to announce the Gospel and to keep up a dialogue with their brothers and sisters.
It is recommended that the actual readings are first studied and then meditated upon with a prayer to the Holy Spirit to grant you the gift of ‘wisdom’ to understand the meaning of the messages of Love, Forgiveness and the Offer of Salvation that the Lord has for each one of us in the Holy Bible.
These commentaries, which have been extracted and summarised for our meditation are from the published works of priests who have by their Divine inspiration become acclaimed scholars of the Scriptures and generally reflect the Church’s understanding of the readings.
These commentaries are not meant to replace the Sunday Homily at Holy Mass but are provided as an additional guide to assist and further enhance our understanding of the Sunday Liturgical Readings.
‘Daily Reflections’ and a Prayer are included to enable us to ‘Live the Word’ during the week following the Sunday Mass. We will begin to understand the meaning of gratuitous love and our life’s true purpose. Through His Word we will follow the Light to help fulfil the mission that has been given to each one of us by our Creator.
“Ignorance of the Scriptures is ‘Ignorance of Christ’.”
Much of Isaiah consists of predictions of terrible events to come. At his call, the prophet was warned that he was being sent to a people who would not use their ears to hear or their eyes to see. But this was not God’s last word; his final message was one of comfort and encouragement. He would bring his people salvation. The time when “the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed, the lame shall leap like the deer, the tongues of the dumb sing for joy.”
The prophet is addressing himself to the Israelites who are prisoners in Babylon. They are depressed and dispirited and think of their relatives slaughtered by the Chaldean soldiers, of the houses and fields burnt up by the invaders and of their land now deserted and inhabited by jackals. They are wondering if a people so hard hit by calamities can ever rise again from its ruins.
The prophet compares the salvation of this barren land to the return of the exiles from Babylon. The Negeb was an arid stretch of desert in the southern part of Judah. It was not a place of much hope or life, yet Isaiah foretells a time of great transformation for this desert. Both may seem unlikely events, but the God who can make the desert bloom can save the people from captivity.
Be strong! Isaiah urges. The blind will see, the deaf will hear. Fear not! The lame will dance and the mute will sing. The great reversals of fate are in God’s hands. The desert will have abundant water.
The reading concludes with the announcement that the land to which the people of Israel will return to from Babylon will be different. “The parched ground will become a marsh,” and the dwellings of jackals will become plots of reed and papyrus. The promises found in this wonderful passage began to be accomplished with the coming of Jesus, but they have to be completed by his disciples now.
Are our communities living signs of hope for all the persons who live depressed and disheartened in our villages and country? Are they showing solidarity with the victims of violence, oppression and injustice? Each one of us has circumstances in our lives, which we consider irreversible: ‘A job in which we are hopelessly stuck, relationships irretrievably broken, depression that seems a permanent part of the landscape and money troubles that will never go away’.
Yet the prophet proclaims that God seeks to make the barest desert into a place of blooming flowers. God promises us deliverance from the various limitations and weaknesses that we endure in our time of exile here on earth. God leads us to confidence through the words and works that the Lord Jesus carries out in our lives.
The Psalm praises God not just because he created the world (v. 6), but also because he looks after the oppressed and the helpless. A king was judged by his care for the weak and the poor. God is hailed as king because he kept faith forever to those in need.
We learnt from James last week that our religion is to be one of action, not words. In theory, we know that the God of our faith does not make distinctions between people; Peter learnt this when he welcomed the centurion Cornelius into the Christian community. But what happens when two strangers enter into our assembly, one rich and the other poor? We welcome the first into the best place (Lk. 11:43; 20:46) and let the poor man sit on the floor.
We judge falsely when we assess the quality of people by their exterior appearances. The outward is only a veneer that can disguise both the genuine and the superficial. We all know, but can easily forget, that the real person is the one that lives within. We forget God’s concern for the poor in the Old Testament and the teachings of Jesus in the Gospel, where the Kingdom is promised to the poor. God does not look for class distinctions, but for those who love him and do his will. God can see what is in our hearts.
Mark is writing his Gospel for the Christian community in Rome, most of who are not Jews. When they read Mark’s Gospel they realize that Jesus cared about people of different cultures and nations. They see and can understand that Jesus also cares for them.
Jesus was on his way from the place called Tyre to the Sea of Galilee. He passed through the district of Sidon and then into the Decapolis region, which was made up of ten towns. Some people brought a man who was deaf and could hardly speak. They asked Jesus to lay his hand on him but Jesus took him away from the crowd, by himself, he touched the man’s ears and tongue and said “Ephphatha,” which means “Open up.” At once he could hear him speak plainly. Jesus asked him to tell no one what had happened, but the more he asked them, the more they broadcast the news.
Among foreigners Jesus is more accepted than among his own people. In his hometown he was rejected and when he heals on the Sabbath, the Pharisees make trouble because they say it is against their law, culture and traditions. These are no obstacles to Jesus’ love for the sick, poor and marginalized and his missionary work. The people come to him willingly and accept him and his message. Jesus is more successful than in his own country.
Jesus calls on us to join him in his mission, not just to our friends and our families, but also to other people who are not of our race or culture. When we go among people who are strangers to us, we leave behind what is familiar to us. We must meet them where they are and accept them the way they are. We must move out of our ‘comfort zones’ which are restrictive.
God’s preference for those who are poor, according to this world, is seen clearly in today’s Gospel. The man who is brought to Jesus is a gentile and has a double impediment. He can neither hear nor speak. People like him are lonely and isolated and often suffer greatly. Jesus takes him aside from the crowd to heal him with his touch and through his prayer. Touching the ears and putting spittle on the tongue was probably a part of traditional medicine. But the power of healing comes from somewhere else. Before saying the command ‘Ephphatha’, he looks up to heaven, because it is God who enables him to cure this deaf and dumb man. Mark emphasizes the response of the crowd, who publish their judgment that Jesus had done all things well. Thus the messianic prophecy of Isaiah in the first reading is seen to be fulfilled: “the ears of the deaf are unsealed and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy.”
Out of his infinite passion Jesus’ love is available to everyone, without any pre-suppositions or any conditions. He is not disconcerted by the handicapped; neither is he prejudiced against those not of his race or religion. His own uniqueness is not employed to ‘lord it over others’, but to be of service to them. In his presence no one has to conceal their handicap, no one has to remain isolated in a wordless world; no one has to be rejected because of their differences.
In the Gospel of Mark, more than in any other Gospel, Jesus forbids people he cures to tell others. This request of Jesus is called the ‘Secret of the Messiah-ship of Jesus’. For Mark, it is not possible to fully understand who Jesus is, until one accepts the Jesus who died on the Cross to save us. We like to believe in a powerful Jesus who has extraordinary powers to cure the sick and feed the hungry and do all kinds of miracles for us. For some it is hard to put trust in a Jesus who died on a Cross, which is seen as a sign of human weakness and mortality. Surely he could have prevented it? But in doing so, he would not be carrying out God’s will. For Mark there is no discipleship without the Cross.
Mark’s readers could identify with the man who was cured. Like him, they lived in Gentile territories and in their baptism, they had received enlightenment, hearing the word Ephphatha – Be opened. The meaning of “Be open” as it is addressed to us today means that we must be open to the truth about our world, our destiny and ourselves. It will involve risks and insecurity. How open are you to change – in the Church, in her institutions, in her ministry and in her worship?
Jesus forbids people to talk about the miracles, because he does not want them to get the idea that he is just a miracle worker.
Ephphatha in the language spoken by Jesus that is Aramaic, means, “be opened”. It is an invitation today for every person to “be opened” and accept Christ and a new life.
‘Acknowledgement and Thanks’ to ‘Recommended Source Material’ by:
Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, Fr. Fernando Armellini SCI, Peter Edmonds SJ, Richard Baawobr M.Afr, Joseph A. Slattery Ph.D, Adelmo Spagnolo MCCJ, Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap, J.E. Spicer CSsR, John R. Donahue SJ and Alice Camille – Master’s degree in Divinity.
Reflections for each day this Week to lead us in the ‘Way, the Truth and the Life’:
Almighty God and Father, on the … of the week following the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B, we reflect on …
Sun. … Are we sometimes like the Israelites and willingly block our ears and no longer listen to what God is telling us? Have we shut out the ‘Word of God’, which he has given us in his Bible? God speaks to us through its pages of truth. Do we truly understand what he is telling us? The prophet Isaiah tells us that one day God will cure our deafness. Let us make that day, today! The Church offers us facilities that will help us understand God’s word if we really want to listen.
Mon. … Do we become despondent and disheartened with all the violence, oppression and injustice in our lives today? The prophet Isaiah urges us to be strong and to persevere. He foretells a time of great transformation for this ‘desert’ in which we live.
Tues. … Each one of us has difficult circumstances in our lives, which we find intolerable, and irreversible. God promises us deliverance from the various limitations and weaknesses that we have to endure during our time of ‘Exile’ here on earth. As a Christian, it is part of carrying our ‘Cross’ and if we can do it for others we will be blessed.
Wed. … The Psalm calls us to hope and to trust in God because he looks after the oppressed and the helpless. God always keeps his promises to those in need.
Thurs. … Do we still fall into the trap of ‘Judging a Book by its Cover’? The reading in James tells us that we judge falsely when we assess the quality of people by their exterior appearances. We need to remember that the ‘real person’ is invisible and is the one who lives inside of that sometimes misleading and deceptive exterior. ‘As you judge so will you be judged!’
Frid. … Mark’s Gospel tells us how Jesus came about loving and serving people of different cultures and nations. Jesus calls on us today to join him in his mission of love and charity directed to all persons irrespective of their backgrounds, race or culture. Will we accept his invitation to share in his work?
Sat. … Jesus takes the deaf and dumb man aside and through the power of God and his love heals the man. Jesus calls upon all of us through our love for God and for others to help heal the poverty, hurt and the suffering in our communities. When we carry out works of mercy in accordance to God’s will, miracles will happen and our hearts will “be opened”. Faith in Christ doesn’t mean knowing all the answers; but by being open to the truth about our world, our destiny and ourselves.
Prayer after the Daily Reflection.
Father, in Christ we have become Your children. Look upon us with love and grant us the graces and gifts you have promised us for the service of others. We pray, Lord, that through Your guidance and our own efforts and actions, we may ease the suffering in our communities by carrying out Your will. Today we rejoice and praise our God, who makes no distinctions between classes of people, but makes the poor rich in faith, and the deaf and the dumb speak.
This we ask through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.