Sep 5, 2015

23rd Sunday - Do we hear?

Is 35: 4-7A
Jas 2: 1-5
Mk 7: 31-37

(Click on picture to the right for Sunday readings)

Have you ever found yourself in a conversation where the other person was so convinced they are right that no matter how hard you tried, they would be constantly talking over you?  You begin a sentence and before you know it, the other person is speaking with stronger emotion, stating their opinion louder and with rapid speech in order to make their point. 

So, because I feel I’m not being heard, I break into the same passionate speech.  Pretty soon, both parties haven’t really heard anyone but themselves and the other person is left with little understanding of the other persons real feeling.  In the end we probably feel more confused than ever. If we don’t listen, we won’t understand. How important it is for us all to become better listeners so that we can speak and act clearly. 

Today’s Gospel story in which Jesus restores the sense of hearing to a man who was deaf is a further example of his compassion for all.  The scene is not within Jewish territory.  Rather he is on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, among the Gentile villages. Yet, as always, Jesus responds to the suffering of this man and restores joy to him.  Likewise, the man now can speak clearly.  No talking over.  No confusion.  No misunderstanding about who Jesus is and what he did for the man.  

Although Jesus ordered him to keep this quiet, filled with joy the man was unable to contain himself and proclaimed what God had done for him. The story fulfills what Isaiah the prophet writes in our first reading about the signs of the Messiah: “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; . . .” (Is 35 4-7).  Jesus reputation as a wonder worker spread like wild fire.  But is there more that wasn’t heard? 

Using an original Aramaic word, Ephphatha, quoting Jesus’ exact word, Mark notes how our Lord takes command of the situation:  “Be opened.”  Again, not being able to hear his emphasis or tone of voice, I think it safe to say he spoke that word with force and conviction.  Mark states that Jesus “groaned.”  From the depth of his gut as it were, he commanded the power of the physical disability to release itself.  It is no wonder that people were astonished. 

Yet, there is more to hear.  We could get lost in the details, as often the crowds did, and be deaf to the central purpose of what Jesus did for this man and for many others.  He brought them to faith.  A miracle is not an end in itself.  As wonderful as his healings were, the lives of those Jesus touched were forever changed. They could not contain their gratitude, they became Jesus’ followers, or they changed their life to a better path. But, we are always given the choice.

Say you won a $10 million dollar lottery!  Yes, the government takes about 50% of that so you’ll just have to get buy on a paltry $5 million.  Would your life be changed?  Obviously, yes, and you have the choice to spend it all on yourself or to use your unexpected wealth for the power of good – to make changes in the lives of others.

We hear a great deal these days about the changing culture of America and the millions of immigrants and refugees that are changing the face of Europe and the middle east.  No doubt, this problem poses many other challenges to the economy, to housing, jobs, safety and all the other neuralgic issues touted by our present Presidential candidates on both sides. 

But in the end, what do we hear?  St. James in our second reading reminds us that the lives of Christians cannot have two standards: one for the rich and another for the poor. James reminds us to have no “partialiaty” and to not make “distinctions among yourselves” that create a separation and that would isolate one community from another.  It’s tough to live this way but we cannot forget that when we deal with such human issues, it is human beings which are at stake.  As Jesus reached across the social lines of his time, and responded with the higher value of human compassion, we too have to constantly remind ourselves that God is not partial to people and neither can we. 

Are we able to hear and be conscious of the many needs around us?  To feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked is not an optional choice or something we do because it soothes a guilty conscience or makes me feel good.  Our purpose as Christians, rooted in our baptism, is to carry on the same mission which Jesus brought.  We have to constantly fight against our tendency to judge based merely on outward appearances.  James makes that clear in our second reading when he speaks of behavior which responds to another person’s clothing. 

The moral value which drives everything is love for our neighbor. So it’s always our task to create a society and a community of faith where this equality can be clearly seen.  Among the many values of parish life is that of welcome and hospitality.  Do we hear the cry of those who may feel estranged, lonely, judged, hungry or in any human need?  What sort of programs and priorities do we see in our parish bulletins?  Do we feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, invite others and welcome those are on the margins of life?  Is this a gathering where people feel they can be fed both spiritually and find comfort and support from a loving community which truly cares about their neighbor.  And the best place to begin is right at home where we can find Christ where we are at and to serve him there.

There is no more diverse gathering than our weekend liturgies.  Jesus commanded the disability to release its’ hold on the man when he stated: “Be opened.”  We must open ourselves to hear God’s Word proclaimed, take the time to let it touch us in our need for conversion, and then open ourselves to Jesus presence in his Body and Blood.  The social justice and moral implications we are presented with in every Eucharistic gathering are many. Pope Francis has made it a central theme of his Papacy to ask us if we hear?  Are we open? 

O God, by whom we are redeemed and receive adoption, 
look graciously upon your beloved sons and daughters,
that those who believe in Christ
may receive true freedom
and an everlasting inheritance. 

(Collect of Sunday)