Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
1) Is 35:4-7
2) Jas 2:1-5
Gospel: Mk 7:31-37
The deaf man in today’s Gospel must have known fear. For his speech impediment ensured that he was alone and helpless.
He would have known the pain of isolation on the level of his physical senses of hearing and speaking, and on the social level of not being able to participate fully in the life of his family and community. His physical condition would have led him to fear deeply for his own future and the well-being of his family.
We live in the so-called age of information that immerses us in the fast-paced rush of human communication at any moment of the day. Whether we like it or not, we find ourselves easily caught up in the endless rush hour of human communication as we travel the information superhighway.
You would think that isolation and fear would be a thing of the past in this age of social media with its instantaneous, virtual communication. Would the sheer pace and abundance of the means of human communication not eliminate loneliness and despair? We know well the answer.
Popular movies keep alive the theme of fear of the unknown and of human isolation. Whether it’s the fear of an apocalyptic nuclear disaster, or the threat of nature’s destructive forces, or the threat of new widespread viruses and disease, there is a deep contradiction in our age. Faster and easier human communication has not erased the loneliness and anxiety that grips the human heart.
St. Mark recounts a curious detail in his telling of Jesus’ healing of the deaf man in today’s Gospel. He tells us that Jesus looked up to heaven and groaned as he placed his finger in the man’s ear and, spitting, touched his tongue.
Perhaps it is Mark’s way of reminding us that Jesus knew well the fear that gripped the deaf man and all of us who are in one way or another deaf to the relentless love and mercy of God.
Jesus groans with longing that we open our lives to God in faith, just as he opened the deaf man’s ear. In Jesus’ suffering love on the cross, we encounter God’s definitive victory over human fear, isolation and despair.
The words of the prophet Isaiah, in today’s first reading, confirm God’s response to human fear. “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.”
God intended for his creatures to live in communion and in freedom, not chained by isolation and fear. Sin introduced fear into our relationship with God and with one another.
Today, God’s word invites us to replace fear with faith, and isolation with communion with God and neighbor, as we pray in faith, “speak to me, Lord.”
What fear(s) will I entrust to God today as I choose to live by faith?
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Sullivan is secretary for Catholic education of the Archdiocese of Washington.