Father Donald Senior, CP

Sept. 9: 23rd Sunday In Ordinary Time

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

We can be transformed

Is 35:4-7a; Ps 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10; Jas 2:1-5; Mk 7:31-37

There is a world-weary saying in French that probably rings true for many: “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” — “The more things change, the more it is the same thing.” Even the Bible seems to agree, at least in the somewhat jaded biblical book Qohelet (also called Ecclesiastes): “What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. There is nothing new under the sun” (1:9).  

But, in fact, the strongest current in the Bible affirms that things can change for the better. After all, the bedrock of Christian faith is that in Jesus, God brings life out of death. That spirit of hope about transformation for the better moves through our readings for this Sunday.

The first reading, from the prophet Isaiah, in a time of crisis and quiet despair, proclaims the “Word of the Lord” to those “whose hearts are frightened” — “Be strong, fear not. … Here is your God who comes to save you.” Isaiah cites powerful examples of transformation to make his point: “The eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, and the tongue of the mute will sing.”  

The prophet then turns to one of the Bible’s most famous metaphors — the transformation of the desert into springs of water: “Streams will burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe. The burning sands will become pools, and the thirsty ground, springs of water.”

Psalm 146, to which we are invited to respond “Praise the Lord, my soul,” echoes the words of Isaiah, “The Lord gives sight to the blind; he raises up those who were bowed down. The Lord protects strangers. The fatherless and the widow, the Lord sustains.”

The Gospel passage today taken from Mark’s account is one of the most vivid healing stories in the New Testament, one that is truly a work of difficult transformation. 

Mark notes that Jesus ventures into the district of the Decapolis, a league of 10 Gentile cities on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Here Jesus encounters a man who is deaf and mute. Jesus takes the man aside and puts his fingers into the man’s ears and touches the man’s tongue with spittle. (In the ancient world, spittle was considered to have healing power. This is the origin of the custom that still lingers when boxers spit into their hands before beginning a fight.) 

Jesus works hard on this cure. The Gospel notes that he looks to heaven as if to plead for strength and then groans, calling out, “Ephphatha!” — “Be opened!”

What a scene this is. Jesus, encountering a condition that had cut this man off from hearing and speaking, dramatically intercedes to bring healing to this child of God. No wonder the crowds were exceedingly astonished and acclaimed, “He has done all things well!”

What might we take from this powerful set of readings, hearing them as we do at the beginning of September when a new season is ushered in? There is obvious confidence here that by the power of God’s grace, change can be effected: the fearful gaining courage, those with disabilities liberated, the desert in bloom, one who cannot hear or speak now empowered to do so.  

Even the practical tones of the Letter of James in the second reading chime in, as we heard in last week’s segment from this blunt New Testament letter: Don’t cater to the rich at the expense of the poor. Change your perspective, the Jewish Christian author James tells us (and will do so next Sunday, too).

I can’t help but think of this biblical conviction, that through the power of God we can be transformed, as right now the church reels from the terrible evidence of betrayals and crimes and sins directed at the most vulnerable, especially on the part of those entrusted in a special way with the healing ministry of Jesus. 

Who is not tempted to despair about all this and wonder if the deep-seated failures of the church can ever be transformed? The Scriptures for today answer with a resounding “yes.”


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