Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
1) Is 35:4-7
2) Jas 2:1-5
Gospel: Mk 7:31-37
Fear is a powerful human emotion. And who could have imagined that the entire world would be caught in a grip of fear as the pandemic spread rapidly in the early months of last year.
In those early days of the pandemic there was a clear sense of fear that seized each human heart. No one escaped the crippling fear of an unknown virus that eventually closed down the daily working of governments, business, schools and families across the globe.
Fear tends to cripple the heart and mind, and freeze our ability to act freely. In the spiritual life, fear closes off God’s grace and mercy, locking one in hopelessness and even despair.
It’s no surprise then that the words “fear not!” are found, in some form or another, in almost every book of the Bible. In the Old and New Testaments we hear, time and time again, the comforting voice of God saying, “Fear not, I am with you!”
From Genesis to Revelation, God is reaching out to those held captive by fear to strengthen and renew them with courage. God desires to free his creatures from fear, even the deepest existential fear that is part of our fallen human condition.
In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah speaks an uplifting word to the Israelites: “Thus says the Lord: Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.”
These comforting words strengthened the Israelites in times of hardship, persecutions and the loss of their common identity.
God’s comforting words are always matched by God’s powerful deeds. Isaiah brings hope to those crippled by fear when he speaks the promise of God that “the eyes of the blind (will) be opened, the ears of the deaf (will) be cleared.”
This promise of God makes the psalmist sing out loud, “Praise the Lord, my soul!” for “the Lord sets captives free!”
In the Gospel, the people bring a deaf man with a speech impediment to Jesus. They beg Jesus to heal him. The details in Mark’s account of this healing story are striking.
For we are told that Jesus puts his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue, then looked up to heaven and prayed, “Ephphatha! — that is, “Be opened!”
The man’s ears were opened instantly. His physical healing released him from the grip of fear to become a fearless witness to God’s mighty deeds in his community.
God desires to free you from fear. The word of God invites us to place into God’s loving hands all that instills fear in us. God’s love is infinitely more powerful than our strongest fears.
“Be not afraid!” are words that God speaks into the depths of our fears, spoken and unspoken. Our small and big fears can dissolve in the light of God’s healing love and mercy. For freedom from fear may we pray with confident faith, “speak to me, Lord.”
What fears do you bring to Jesus for healing?
Sullivan is a professor at The Catholic University of America.