23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Isaiah supplies the first reading. It speaks of the blind, the deaf and the lame.
Today, physical impairments produce few of the severe deprivations that they created at the time of Isaiah, and popular moods about those who experience these impairments are very different from the views of those people at the time of this prophet.
To understand this reading from Isaiah, however, some awareness of the older attitudes and presumptions is needed.
Blindness, lameness or deafness therefore severely isolated people. Anyone who was blind, deaf or lame was virtually excluded from the human community. Nothing was more fearful than being alone unless it was being alone and helpless.
More importantly, impairments often were seen as the consequence of sin. This reading refers to persons whose impairments isolate them from others, and whose sin separates them from God.
God, in great mercy and love, restores vision, hearing and the ability to move, and thus restores a place in the human community. God forgives sin. His forgiveness heals and strengthens.
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 is not definite in identifying the man to whom the title of this epistle refers.
Some scholars believe it was James, who was called the “brother of Jesus.” This figure was in the news a few years ago when a burial casket was discovered bearing an inscription stating that the casket once had contained the bones of James, the “brother of Jesus.”
Israeli archeologists since have concluded that this inscription is a forgery. Who was James, 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” and “sisters” of Jesus.
The most ancient Christian teaching is that Jesus was Mary’s only child. The Lord then had no full siblings.
The reading this weekend is a great lesson in the equality of all humans before God, and the folly of putting too much emphasis on the earthly and material. All earthly things will pass away. Only the spiritual will endure.
St. Mark’s Gospel provides the third reading. In this reading, Jesus has returned to the Holy Land from visits to Tyre and Sidon, in what today is Lebanon, and to the Ten Cities, an area now in Jordan.
Merely by visiting these places, Jesus takes the word, and power, of God far and wide, to gentiles as well as to Jews.
Jesus meets a man who can neither hear nor speak. The persons first to hear this Gospel story would have had the same assumptions as did the people at the time of Isaiah. They would have assumed that such physical difficulties were the result of sin. Therefore, this lesson has many more implications than simply the Lord’s power to heal.
Jesus indeed heals. He forgives sin, and in this forgiveness all is renewed. All is strong.
The Church for weeks has been calling us to discipleship. It also has warned us that we are limited, shortsighted and weak.
These readings confront us not so much about physical problems as about sin, and how sin removes us from communion with God and therefore from the community of the holy. Sin blinds us and leaves us deaf spiritually and mentally. It isolates us, renders us helpless and dooms us.
Forgiving us, God restores, refreshes and strengthens us. We can see. We can hear. We can find, and make, our way.
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