Share the joy!

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23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B: Sept. 9, 2012
Isa 35:4-7; Ps 146; James 2:1-5; Mark 7:31-37

Did you notice the joy that bursts out of our readings today? In the first reading, the Lord says: “Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God… he comes to save you.” And as we hear about the healing and renewing of these deep physical disorders, like blindness and deafness—the lame don’t just walk, they leap! And the mute don’t just speak, they sing! Streams burst forth; and burning, thirsty ground becomes springs of water.

The psalm too speaks of the great things that God does for the blind, the hungry; for widows and the fatherless; for captives and the oppressed and strangers. And the psalmist cries: “The God of Jacob keeps faith forever… the Lord … through all generations… Praise the Lord, my soul; I shall praise the Lord all my life”! What joy, what energy we hear!

Now there’s something interesting about the context from which we take both the first reading and the psalm.

  • The reading from the Prophet Isaiah comes from around 700 B.C. And it is part of a section of chapters that are urging the People of Israel, in the Southern Kingdom of Judah, not to be afraid of the Assyrian empire, and also not to depend on an alliance with Egypt—but to place their trust in God.
  • And the psalm is doing something similar. The first part of the psalm, which we omitted, urges us, “Put no trust in princes, in mere mortals powerless to save. When they breathe their last, they return to the earth; that day all their planning comes to nothing.” In contrast, the psalm then continues: “The God of Jacob keeps faith forever… the Lord … through all generations.”

And isn’t that an admonition that we need to hear all the time? Certainly right now, during this election season, when so much conversation and media are filled with claims and counterclaims; with promises made and broken; with human beings praised by some and torn down by others; with difficulties and fear, with hopes and possibilities. Don’t put your trust in princes, in mere mortals; don’t pin your hopes or fears to human nations or institutions. “Happy those … whose hope is in the Lord, their God, the maker of heaven and earth … who keeps faith forever.”

And in our Gospel reading we meet a man who discovers all of this on the day when he met our Lord Jesus. He was in the district of the Decapolis—that is, of the ten Roman cities to the east of the Sea of Galilee—largely non-Jewish and so lacking the whole religious heritage of the People of Israel. And he was deaf, probably from birth. Now, whereas someone blind from birth would probably not have that clear an idea of what this sight was that they were lacking compared with others—this deaf man could see lips moving; could see facial expressions and the evidence of communication occurring; could see the disappointment and frustration on other people’s faces as he tried to speak, while unable to hear himself or anyone else—and so did not succeed well, but had a speech impediment; and therefore was stuck in an isolation, a lack of full connection with others; perpetually cut off…

…until he met this man Jesus. And Jesus took him off by himself away from the crowd, where he could interact with him with privacy and dignity. Jesus did not explain to him, in words that he could not hear, what he was going to do. Rather, he acted it out in motions: putting his finger into the man’s ears; spitting and touching his tongue. And then he spoke the first word that this man ever heard: “Ephphatha!”—an ordinary word in their common Aramaic language meaning, “Be opened!” And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly.

What joy that man must have felt! What elation and hope! For not only had his hearing been given to him, and all those barriers of silence taken down—but he had encountered God himself, walking among us, sharing every aspect of our lives; and this God, Jesus Christ, true God and true man, had reached out to this man personally; had put his fingers in his ears; had touched his tongue with his own saliva; and had given this man something of his life, his love, his power—and his joy. Surely this man didn’t just speak plainly; surely he sang for joy!

Our Lord Jesus had loosed his tongue—and not only his tongue, it seems, but the tongues of all the people there, for they couldn’t keep the news to themselves. Even though he ordered them not to tell anyone, the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it. Because that’s what you do with such great news: you tell others; you share the joy. Like so many others in the Gospels (cf. John 1:40-46, 4:29), and in the centuries since, they said to others, “Come and see this man who has done this for him! Come and see the one who has done this for me! Come and see!”

Cardinal Wuerl has written (in his Pastoral Letter on the New Evangelization):

Jesus beckons us. The joy we experience compels us to share it with others. We are not only disciples, we are evangelists… Jesus himself establishes evangelization as of the very nature and essence of the Church when he gives his disciples the commission to evangelize, that is, to announce this good news…

And what joy it is for each of us to share with others the joy we have in knowing Christ. To share it with rich and poor; with children and adults; with family and friends and neighbors and co-workers and classmates and strangers. To bring them to Jesus, so that he can touch their ears and lips and hearts, and say, “Ephphatha! Be opened!”

“Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God… he comes to save you.”

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