The 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 6, 2015

Isaiah 35, 4-7 + Psalm 146 + James 2, 1-5 + Mark 7, 31-25

The place is important or Mark would not have given us the detail. Chapter 7 takes place in Tyre which is Gentile territory. Jesus goes there and his presence is a sign that the Reign of God has arrived there as well. Gentiles will not be left out. To make sure that we get the point, Mark repeats the same detail in the healing story we will hear next week.  Someone brings these outsiders, these afflicted gentile people to Jesus in the person of this afflicted man today. By the time Mark’s Gospel is coming together, there are Gentiles members in the community following the way of Jesus Christ.

The details of this story are tender, personal, and intimate. Just as we saw last week emerging from the controversy over clean hands and clean hearts, it is the touch of Jesus that cleanses and purifies, heals, and saves. With great tenderness, Jesus takes this man aside. He removes him from the gaze of cold curious spectators and those who would just watch and stare. He respects this afflicted gentile, and with this action of going to a private place, the two of them have a moment of intimacy. That man comes to know Jesus in a personal way, and Jesus looks upon that man with compassion and tenderness to the point that the Gospel says he “sighed.” I believe  that this “sigh” is something that wells up in Jesus with great sadness and pain because this man has been so excluded from those who could celebrate and share the Good News of God’s Reign which has begun with the presence of Jesus. In the privacy of that moment and the depth of that relationship, Jesus touches him.

Those who would be followers of Jesus know well that the behavior of Jesus guides our behavior as much as his words. We find a powerful and unmistakable lesson here. The sick, the old, the helpless, the poor, the immigrant, anyone whose condition or affliction in life keeps them from being able to live in and celebrate the Reign of God is received with tenderness and respect. They are not nameless numbers, statistics who have no identity and deserve no respect. Their presence among us should move us deeply to sigh in sadness at their affliction and move us to action as it did Jesus Christ. For they too, says this Gospel, deserve the touch of Jesus Christ and the healing comfort of recognition, respect, and tenderness.

This Gospel speaks to us about Charity, about how it is to be lived and experienced both by the giver and the receiver.“Humbly welcome the word that has taken root in you with its power to save you. Act on this word.” says St James in today’s Epistle. As believers of the word, we must live and act with magnanimity of heart to see and value other people as God sees and values them. Nothing else will do. There is no partiality with God. If there is, we should be afraid. Anyone who claims to be a believer must reject all partiality. In a society where designer labels on a person’s apparel seem to speak more loudly than the character of the ones who wear them, this Gospel speaks clearly, and James insists that this is to “judge with evil designs.

This story told after hearing the Prophet Isaiah makes it perfectly clear that we are now living in the final days, in the Reign of God. The vision of the Prophet has been realized, and we are not only the recipients of that Good News experiencing the tender mercy of God through our relationship with Jesus Christ, we are also the ministers of that same mercy, and the ones who must reveal this good news both by what we say and by what we do.

Father Tom Boyer