Commentary: 23rd Sunday Year B

First Reading: Isaiah 35:4–7a

Today’s reading is part of the book of the judgments of God (ch. 1-39). In particular, chapters 33 to 35 “are given over to a series of oracles about the restoration and glory of Zion in the eschatological age. Significantly, these visions contain both forecasts of the divine judgment of wicked nations (such as Edom) and prophecies of restoration that utilize the imagery of the future exodus and the renewal of creation that will take place when God himself finally comes” (BP 732).

This is a “lovely, joyful poem, looking forward to the coming of the Lord to heal Israel and take vengeance on her tormentors” (HW).

4Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.” 5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; 7the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

“When, at the end of the Gospel, people say with astonishment: “He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak,” this is almost an exact quotation from the 1st reading, taken from Isaiah… This is something that has to do with the majority, for the Lord’s promises are directed toward the entire people… [and] a transformation of all nature by the approach of the judging and redeeming God” (Balthasar, LW, 234).

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 146:1b, Ps 146:6-10
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
6who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; 7who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; R.
8the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. 9The Lord watches over the strangers; R.
The Lord upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. 10The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord! R.
Second Reading: James 2:1–5

St. James’ letter, steeped in the Old Testament and in the teachings of Jesus derived from the Sermon on the Mount, is known as “a manifesto for social justice.” Concern for the poor and the less fortunate runs right through the Bible (HW).

“The subject of today’s reading is that we should not grade people according to external appearance, for a person’s quality is something that derives from his union with God – the more humble and understanding he is, the more honor he deserves” (SCB).

2 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2 For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3 and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?

“James calls Christians to view the poor with completely different eyes. What the world does and, sadly, what James says Christians not infrequently do (taking notice of the rich and disdaining the poor) contradicts not only the explicit words of Christ but even contradicts the entire divinely established world order described in the Old Testament. For the streams open up and gardens flourish precisely in the midst of impoverished nature, namely, in the wilderness… Jesus calls the poor “blessed” = uniquely loved by God” (Balthasar 235).

“The Old Testament belief is that the poor are the object of God’s special care (Psalm 35:10) and of messianic blessings (Isaiah 61:1). 1 Corinthians 1:17-29 gives Paul’s explanation of this divine choice – by reason of their faith they are rich” (SCB).

“In more modern times the great Papal Encyclicals on social issues gave the first official teaching anywhere on the rights of exploited classes after the Industrial Revolution, the right to a just wage, to healthcare, to form trade unions, and so on. However, it is always instinctive and natural—as this witty and poignant reading shows—to give more honour to the lord mayor at the front than to the tramp who shuffles in at the back of the Church, forgetting that in God’s eyes they have just the same value” (HW 216).

Gospel: Mark 7:31–37

“Today we continue our journey through the Gospel of Mark. Last week we heard the controversy about ritual purity, this week we skip over the healing of the Canaanite woman’s daughter and hear of Jesus’ healing of a man who is both deaf and mute. In this miracle we can see a model of the way God acts on souls – for us to believe, God must first open our heart so we can listen to His word” (SCB).

“We have been prepared to see the true meaning of this incident by the first reading, for in his wonderful cures Jesus is fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah. Jesus’ activity as he goes around ‘doing all things well’ is the coming of God into the world, the Day of the Lord when the tongues of the dumb will sing for joy. Jesus is the sacrament of God. In him, God is active in the world, bringing peace, healing and joy. In him, people met and experienced God” (HW 216).

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd,

“Jesus shows the most tender considerateness. Deaf folk are always a little embarrassed. In some ways it is more embarrassing to be deaf than it is to be blind. A deaf person knows he cannot hear; and when someone in a crowd shouts at him and tries to make him hear, in his excitement he becomes all the more helpless. Jesus showed the most tender consideration for the feelings of a man for whom life was very difficult” (William Barclay).

and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.

“Physically touching both ears and tongue precedes his upward look toward the Father (in this miracle the Father acts through him) and his sigh, which probably points to his having been filled with the Holy Spirit. This trinitarian fullness indicates that the prayer “Be opened!” speaks not only of physical healing but of effective grace for Israel and for all mankind” (Balthasar, LW 234).

Everything that Jesus did, He did in a way that the man could understand what was taking place. Even the look tells the man that God is the one who is healing him. In addition, the gestures are sacramental in that they achieve what they symbolize (guide for sacrament of anointing in early Church?).

“In a modern hygiene-conscious world such gestures might be frowned upon. But if we are truly acting as the members of Christ’s body in the world we cannot hold back, and from time to time will be involved physically and totally in helping others. One such courageous gesture was Princess Diana’s handshake with an AIDS sufferer when it was still believed that the condition was physically contagious. We too can bring Christ’s healing in countless simple, but often costly and courageous, ways” (HW 216). 

35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.

“So open your ears and enjoy the good odor of eternal life which has been breathed upon you by the grace of the sacraments. This we pointed out to you as we celebrated the mystery of the opening and said: ‘ephphatha,’ that is, ‘be opened,’ so that everyone about to come to the table of grace might know what he was asked and remember the way he once responded. Christ celebrated this mystery in the Gospel, as we read, when He healed the one who was deaf and dumb” [Saint Ambrose of Milan (A.D. 390), The Mysteries, 1,3-4].

36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

“See Isaiah 35:5-6 (part of our first reading) which is part of a vision of Israel’s glorious future. This brings out the theological lesson of the cure: the age of Messianic salvation, announced by Isaiah, has arrived with Jesus” (SCB).

Summary of Bishop Barron’s Homily: This deaf-mute man stands for all of us. We are spiritually deaf to God’s words for us. As a result, speech impediment ensues.  If you don’t hear the Word of God clearly, then you cannot speak it clearly either. Maybe you can make some sounds, but they won’t be clear articulate sounds. How many Catholics can speak the Word of God with clarity? How many of us are tongue-tied when we are questioned about our faith? Hearing the word of God is like hearing a pitch at a specific frequency. Saints are attuned to God’s Word. We are not. So many voices. So many competing sounds… Jesus took the deaf man away from the crowd. How important this first move was. Spiritually, one reason we cannot hear is because we spend too much time in the crowd. We hear too much about the voices of our culture. We need to be moved away, brought into a new environment, where we can hear the Word of God clearly – a place of silent, communion, and contemplation – away from the crowd and into the Church – the place where God’s Word will be heard… Jesus groans and puts His fingers in that man’s ears. The Son plugs Himself into this deaf man with a current from the Father through the Son to the deaf man – this is a picture of the Church – the Father speaks to us through His Son… What’s the key to becoming an evangelist? Getting plugged in. Hearing God’s speech and then we can, in turn, speak it clearly and confidently.

FORMED: *Good homily to speak out against New Age spiritualities. Personal God Who is the Divine Healer VS. tapping into “spiritual powers”  – 2 sacraments of healing: Penance and Anointing of the Sick. If being physically healed will most assist our ultimate good, God will heal us. Spiritually, God will always heal us (sin wounds, grace heals). Only Jesus, in and through His Catholic Church, can heal us.

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