Reflection for Sunday, August 6th by Fr. Andre Boyer
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
For printable version: 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Homily
Last week, we came to a very important passage in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus has proven time after time that he is from God and speaks with unique authority, and he then revealed something crucial to his followers: The rituals you do to clean yourself on the outside really don’t deal with the dirt and evil inside. Your heart needs more than man-made traditions to be truly clean. In saying this Jesus is preparing those who will listen to receive his ultimate cleansing. He makes clear that God has always wanted our heart.
The example that I gave last week was the healing of the Gentile woman’s daughter…the woman is the first person in Mark to hear and understand a parable of Jesus.
Out of all the people who have heard parables, she gets it. She actually relates to Jesus, not with flattery, and with no pride. You could even say that she argued with him…but it was from a heart of faith. And Jesus LOVES it. He responds with: ‘Woman, you have great faith!’ And he rewards it and grants her the desire of her heart.
Now Jesus moves on and we get another episode with the gentiles in our Gospel today. In this Gospel, we see Jesus face-to-face with a man whose life could be summed up in six words: no sound, no voice, no hope.
No sound, no voice, no hope – it really is an accurate description of this man. It must have been very frustrating for him. Throughout his life, he knew something of what he was missing. He saw other people having conversations, but he could not enter in. Surely he had tried to enter in – and just as surely he had been rebuffed time after time. When he was a child, did other children make fun of him? When, as an adult, he tried to speak, did the people around him not even attempt to understand? Were they embarrassed for him? Or were they embarrassed because of him?
Jesus never met a person in need he didn’t love! Taking him away from the crowd, Jesus “put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, … ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.”
It’s good to know Jesus healed a deaf and mute man 2,000 years ago. It tells us something about Jesus’ compassion and power. But the gospels were not written primarily as history books based on the life of JESUS. The gospels were written, as John says in his account, so that people “may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and that through believing [they] may have life in his name.” That puts the events recorded in all the gospels in a different light. Each writer chose what to include in his book for a purpose.
Beyond recounting history, Mark had a reason for telling about the man whom Jesus healed. Perhaps Mark knew that people find themselves with no sound, no voice and no hope for a variety of reasons. Indeed Mark had experienced a time when he was in a panic and had no hope. Many Bible commentators believe Mark was referring to himself when he wrote (in Mark 14) about a “certain young man” who was following Jesus in Gethsemane. “[The soldiers] caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.”
What about me and you… or your spouse or partner… or friend … or co-worker? Have we ever found ourselves with no answers, nothing to say (or no one to listen) and no hope? Has an accident or disease attacked our body? Or have we experienced a financial setback or disaster? Is your marriage falling to pieces? Are we trapped by sin? Are we struggling with addictions? All of us have experienced times of fear and pain that we had not anticipated and for which we were not prepared.
A woman in Edmonton was asked by her church to share her journey from hopelessness to hope as she dealt for decades with mental illness. She wrote her testimony anonymously and asked the church to make it available to its members and anyone else who might benefit from what she had to say. Hear a portion of her words of faith, even in the midst of adversity and continued struggle: “What a glorious God we share! In amazement I set to this task before me. Laughing with joy and trying to convince myself that this moment is real, I am awake. A place in time that in my darkest hours, I could have never imagined! I have been invited to share some encouraging words with my brothers and sisters who suffer as I do with mental illness … “
She closes her testimony saying, “My God had carried me so far. When I was blinded by illness, God protected me. Whenever I cried out for help, God comforted me. Even in my worst moments, I knew that I had been blessed far more than I ever deserved… Friends, do not give up. Pray, search your heart, seek wise council and press on.”
Mark relates the story of a Gentile who, because of the touch of Jesus, can hear Jesus. Like the Syrophoenician woman, another Gentile outsider has been included in the company of Jesus. Mark is here resuming his insiders-outsiders theme. The hearing and understanding commanded by Jesus are made possible only by Jesus. Faith in Jesus is a difficult matter; indeed, it is the most difficult matter in all the world. Some, like the disciples, are in close and constant contact with Jesus but still cannot see. Others like the Syrophoenician woman and this speech – and hearing-impaired man are in dark and distant lands. But come to see, to hear, to hope. What does it mean for all these to hear and understand? It means that whether Jew or Gentile, near or far, knowledgeable or neophyte, only the touch of Jesus can enable true hearing, seeing, understanding, and witness.
Like the woman, would we be humble enough to let Jesus speak offensively to us? Or will we be offended and leave before the cure can be given? Would we be humble enough to let Jesus but his spit on us? Or would that be a bridge too far? Would we rather be unable to hear? Will we be broken and desperate enough to fall on our knees before Jesus with our life, with our deepest desires and hurts and needs, and stay there, taking what comes, until we are changed? Or will our own comforts and ego and doubt and disbelief keep us from coming to Jesus every day to follow him this way?