Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
The first reading for this weekend, from the Book of Isaiah, speaks of the blind, the deaf and the lame.
Today’s culture is very different from that in which this section of Isaiah was written. Physical impairments now can be managed, in most cases. People with physical challenges now lead lives that would only have been dreams long ago in ancient Israel.
Moreover, today no scorn accompanies physical disabilities. People in this day and age know that these impairments have physical explanations. Now, it is understood that genetics, disease or injury causes such difficulties.
Also, in Isaiah’s time, transportation was very limited. So, the inability to walk was a major disadvantage. Even more a disadvantage was being unable to hear or being unable to see. Communications for almost everyone was verbal or visual.
Immobility, blindness, lameness or deafness therefore severely isolated people. As much as at any time in human history, being alone was a fearful thought. It also was a peril.
Finally, physical impairments were seen as the consequence of sin. Physical inadequacies, and ultimately death, came because of Adam’s sin. Individual, personal sin by people weakened and afflicted them as well.
God, in great mercy and love, restores vision, hearing and the ability to move, and thus restores a place in the human community. Isaiah displays his typical eloquence. Because of God’s goodness, the mute not only will speak but sing. The lame not only will walk, but they will leap like the stag. Springs will water burning sands.
The Epistle of James is the source of the second reading. The New Testament mentions several men with this name. Likely, other men by the same name were alive at the time of Jesus or in the first decades of Christianity. The Scripture does not identify the man to whom the title of this epistle refers.
Was it James, who was called the “brother of Jesus”? The oldest Christian tradition was that James was a son of Joseph by Joseph’s earlier marriage. (Under Jewish law, sons or daughters of Joseph’s earlier marriage, if indeed there were an earlier marriage, would have been called the “brothers” or “sisters” of Jesus.) This again is a tradition. It cannot be known for sure with the evidence now available. It may have been another James.
The reading this weekend is a great lesson in the destiny of all humans before God. Everything earthly will pass away. Only the spiritual will endure.
St. Mark’s Gospel provides the third reading. Jesus has returned from visits to Tyre and Sidon, in what today is Lebanon, and to the Ten Cities, an area now in Jordan.
Merely by having visited these places, Jesus took the presence of God far and wide, to gentiles as well as to Jews.
Jesus encountered a man who could not hear or speak. Bystanders, and likely the man himself, would have assumed that sin somehow was at fault.
Jesus healed the man physically, but it was a sign of divine forgiveness. Union with God brings wholeness and strength. Union with God gives us hope of everlasting life in heaven.
The Church for weeks has called us to discipleship. It also has warned us that we are shortsighted and weak.
In these readings, the Church confronts us with our sins, the source of ultimate weakness. Sin separates us from God, blinds us and leaves us deaf. It renders us helpless. We are doomed.
When God forgives us, however, we are restored, refreshed and strengthened. We can see and hear. We can find our way.
It is simple. God, in Christ, is our hope and life. Sin is our burden as humans, with dire effects. No one is too bad to receive God’s healing, forgiveness and power. Just ask for forgiveness.
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