Friday, September 03 2021
This Sunday's first reading is from the 35th Chapter of Isaiah. Here we see a reflection of the power of Israel's God to restore creation. Once God's aims are accomplished, and God's vengeance is satisfied, nature is restored to the order God desires. In fact, nature is made better than it was before. The desert not only blooms as it might do in a normal spring season (Vs. 1-2), it also runs over with new sources of water (Vs. 6-7). The desert has been transformed into a marsh. And like the orders of nature, the people themselves are also better than they were before. All their physical infirmities have been healed (Vs. 5-6), and their fears have been allayed by the knowledge that God's vengeance, in this case, is expressed for their benefit and not their harm (Vs. 3-4). Here the prophesied curse of ears that do not hear, eyes that do not see, and minds that do not understand the intentions of God (Isaiah 6:9-10) are replaced with a promise of bodies whole and strong and a God that can be heard clearly calling for the people's restoration. This is a clear and awesome promise of a faithful God, the same God we worship today.
Our second reading from St. James is part of a letter to Jewish Christians who were caught up in the social tensions of the mid-first century. At this time, there were outbreaks of violence and insurrection taking place in Jerusalem and environs — a conflict that would culminate in the Jewish revolt of A.D. 66-70. In fact, the whole Roman world was dealing with unrest, including food shortages, economic problems and the rapid turnover of Roman emperors that led to an erratic government policy toward Christians, Jews, and others. The problem before the church in this time of upheaval can be summed up: "How do we remain a faithful Christian community in the midst of this time of trial and temptation?" St. James wrote to encourage his brothers and sisters and to give them some instruction on how to navigate in difficult times. In essence, he says faithfulness must be practiced. He gives a series of instructions on how to live a good Christian life. However, he admonishes them not to just listen to the way but practice it. We may be sorely tested in life, but if we see those tests as an opportunity to be faithful, we can come to appreciate it as a gift from God.
Today's Gospel from St. Mark continues from last Sunday. Here we are told of two healing miracles by a rather tired traveling Jesus. Although different, these miracles, clearly reveal the awesome power of Jesus as well as expressing his desire to keep his identity secret. The first miracle reported here involves the daughter of a Gentile woman. It seems like Jesus initially does not want to heal the girl, however, Jesus clearly respects the mother’s persistence. On the basis of her words, he directs her to go with the promise that the demon has left her daughter. The reversal that Jesus demonstrates in his willingness to perform the miracle from verse 27 to verse 29 is unparalleled throughout the gospels. That an unclean, Gentile woman should be the cause of such a reversal is even more astounding. In the second healing miracle, Jesus adopts a rather unusual procedure for healing the deaf man by putting his fingers into his ears, spitting, and touching his tongue. In antiquity, saliva was sometimes imagined as conveying healing or magical properties. We remember that Jesus also uses his saliva later in the gospel to heal the blind man at Bethsaida (8:23). However, for the healing of the deaf man, even more, actions are evidently necessary as Jesus pronounces the word "Ephphatha." In Jesus' speaking of an Aramaic pronouncement at the moment of healing, one might be reminded of the scene of Jairus' daughter's healing where a similar pronouncement affected the healing (5:41). Just as this secrecy does not stop the word about Jesus spreading within the narrative, so, too, does the gospel itself stand as testimony that such witnesses to Jesus will not ultimately be silenced.
-- Cn. Richard Visconti