Father Donald Senior, CP

Sept. 5: 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Heart of the matter

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

Sometimes hearing passages from Scripture is like listening to the evening news.

Reports of burning sands and thirsty ground. People fearful and sick. People beaten down and desperately hungry. Strangers at the mercy of others. All of these and more are cited in the readings today from the prophet Isaiah, in our responsorial Psalm 146, and in the blunt words of the Letter of James.

If anyone doubts how attentive our Scriptures are to the plight of poor and vulnerable, they should just listen to the words that Catholics worldwide will be hearing on this 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time.

The point of the biblical message is not to submerge us in guilt but to open our eyes. Most of us, especially in our country blessed with so many resources, can avoid looking into the eyes of those who suffer. 

I have always been struck by Peter’s response in the opening chapters of the Acts of the Apostles when he and the apostle John encounter a man who is paralyzed and begging at the entrance to the Jerusalem temple: “Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, ‘Look at us’” (Acts 3:1-10).

The exchange that follows brings healing to the man who “leaps” for joy and praises God. It is a response that the prophet Isaiah had imagined in today’s reading. When God comes, “then the lame leap like a stag and the tongue of the mute will sing.”

Attention to those who suffer and acting accordingly is surely the strong message of James. He describes a scene that anyone who has hosted a meeting or event will recognize. 

If a distinguished and well-dressed person (“with gold rings and fine clothes”) happens to enter our doors at the same time as a “poor person in shabby clothes,” almost without fail the host pays attention, as James says, “to the one wearing the fine clothes.” The poor person is shunted to the back of the room. 

But such a choice is not God’s choice, James notes: “Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him?”

In Pope Francis’ words, turning from a culture of indifference to a culture of engagement stands at the heart of an authentic Christian spirit. So, too, is the mission to heal. 

That is the message of today’s Gospel passage from Mark. Jesus is traveling through Gentile territory, leaving behind the district of Tyre (in present-day Lebanon) and entering the region of the Decapolis on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. 

His reputation as a healer must have preceded him even here since the people bring to him a man who is both deaf and has a speech impediment.

You sense Jesus’ powerful empathy with this man’s sufferings. There is no indifference here.

Jesus embraces the man, puts his fingers in his ears and puts spittle on his tongue (the ancients believed that spittle was medicinal). As Jesus does so he “groans,” feeling in himself the weight of the man’s pain, and earnestly prays to his Father for healing.

When the man’s life is restored and he is able to hear and to speak the crowds are overwhelmed at Jesus’ healing power: “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” 

We know the rest of the Gospel story, which is that the disciples of Jesus, then and now, are called to be healers and are empowered to do so. Healing in the Gospels surely embraces physical and psychological healing. It is the work of doctors and nurses and all medical professionals and the healing arts of counselors and psychiatrists. 

But healing also has a broad and deep meaning in the Gospels and in our tradition. Every act of respect and empathy for those who suffer, every effort to relieve the plight of those who are poor or hungry, every act that enhances human dignity continues the healing mission of Jesus.


  • scripture