Isaiah 35:4-7a
Psalm 145
James 2 :1-5
Mark 7:31-37

Reflections

The Gospel reading begins by zooming on far away regions and people. The geographical indications of the Gospel of Mark frame the miracle of the healing of the deaf-mute in peripheral areas, far away from the habitual towns of the Hebrew people. Tyre, Sidon, the Sea of Galilee, Decapolis… (v. 31) correspond to Southern Lebanon and Northern Israel of today. The very areas in which are the scenes of a war conflict that has caused so many victims in the Middle East. Jesus himself walked along those roads one day — roads that were the route of ‘pagans’ and merchants — arousing amazement among the people: “He has done all things well; he has made the deaf hear and the dumb speak” (v. 37). The miracle of the cure of the man who was deaf and dumb could have a very symbolic application to the situation of the conflict of today, and indeed of most conflicts: solutions can only be found through the ability of both sides to listen to one another and to dialogue together.
 However, the message of the Word of God this Sunday is global, and far deeper: it is a call to listen to God and to listen to the poor out of love for God, so as to be able to tell him that God does all things well (v. 37) and does good to all, without distinction. The verb "to listen" occurs very often in the Old Testament (more than 1100 times), referring in the first place to God who always listens to the cry of the poor; and it often refers to a call to people: “Listen, Israel...” (Dt.6:4). Indeed, deafness is considered to be a serious illness in the Bible, because it is the image of the rejection of the Word of God. When God intervenes to save his people, He opens, symbolically, their eyes, their ears, their mouth (1st Reading), so that they can see, hear, speak: that is, make contact with God and with other human persons. It is thus, the prophet assures us, that the water of life will flow even in the wastelands and the desert (v. 6-7).
 “The first service we owe our brethren is to listen to them. Whoever is unable to listen to his own brother will soon be unable even to listen to God; he will always be the one who does the talking, even to God” (Dietrich Bonhöffer). On the other hand, the one who has had a real experience of listening to God knows how to listen to his brother, and to make himself a companion to lead him to God, as in the case of the deaf-mute whom someone led to Jesus, asking Him to lay his hands on him (v. 32). To walk alongside, to lead, these are the gestures of a missionary beyond all other gestures, and the actions that fit the roles of parents, godparents, those who educate in the faith..., though in the awareness that only God can pronounce with full effect the Ephphathà, (be opened) (v. 34) that touches the heart of people and makes them come to the Faith.
 The effects of Jesus’ miracle are described as the opening of the ears, the releasing of the impediment of the tongue, the speaking clearly, the astonishment and missionary proclamation of the event (vv. 35-37). Card. Carlo M. Martini, in his pastoral letter “Ephphathà, Be opened!” (Milan 1990) commented: “Such ability to express oneself becomes contagious and uninhibited… The barrier of communication has tumbled down; the word spills over like water that has smashed the barriers of a dam. Astonishment and joy spread through valleys and towns”. Our world, which teaches above all swiftness in communication, on-line, is challenged to make communication a human experience, to open up its channels at all levels and to each person, with special attention to the weakest and those who are farthest.
 Among those we must listen to - which really means everyone, without exception! - God teaches us that there is a privileged group: the poor. He gives courage to the weak, cures the sick and the neglected (1st Reading). For his part, James (2nd Reading) not only declares as perverse (v. 4) the double standards of those who discriminate on the basis of the socio-economic status of a person, but states a general principle of conduct: “Didn’t God choose those who are poor according to the world to be rich in faith and heirs to the Kingdom?” (v. 5). This option for the poor, though it does not exclude anyone, is not an alternative option but a criterion for behaviour, God's way of doing things. Thus it becomes an obligation in the pastoral and missionary activity of the Church, as Pope John Paul II stated so forcefully. (*) Only so the missionary proclamation becomes credible and universal.

 The Pope's Words

(*) “Certainly we need to remember that no one can be excluded from our love, since "through his Incarnation the Son of God has united himself in some fashion with every person" (GS.32). Yet, as the unequivocal words of the Gospel remind us, there is a special presence of Christ in the poor, and this requires the Church to make a preferential option for them. This option is a testimony to the nature of God's love, to his providence and mercy; and in some way history is still filled with the seeds of the Kingdom of God which Jesus himself sowed during his earthly life whenever he responded to those who came to him with their spiritual and material needs.”

Pope John Paul II
Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (06.01.2001) n. 49

 In the steps of missionaries

- 5/9: Bl. Mother Teresa (Agnes Gonhxa B.) of Calcutta (1910-1997), a religious from Macedonia, who distinguished herself in the assistance of the most derelict, in India and in the world; Foundress of the Missionaries of Charity.

- 7/9: Bl. John Baptist Mazzucconi (1826-1855), an Italian missionary priest of PIME, martyred in the island of Woodlark (Oceania).

- 8/9: Feast of the Nativity of Mary, whose birth is a message of joy to the whole world.

- 8/9: Bl. Frederick Ozanam (1813-1853), a lay Frenchman, example of charity and lay holiness; founder of the Confraternity of St. Vincent de Paul, for the assistance to the poor.

- 8/9: Literacy World Day (established by ONU-UNESCO, 1972).

- 9/9: St. Peter Claver (1580-1654), a Spanish Jesuit missionary, who spent over 40 years at the service of African slaves who were transported to Carthagena (Colombia). He is the patron of the apostolate among black people.

- 9/9 : Bl. Jacques-Désiré Laval (1803-1864), French doctor and priest of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, missionary among the Africans who were set free in Port Luis (Mauritius Island, Indian ocean).

- 10/9: Blessed martyrs Sebastian Kimura, a Japanese Jesuit, Charles Spinola, an Italian Jesuit, Francis Morales, a Dominican, and 50 martyred companions (priests, religious, married people, catechists, widows, youth), killed in Nagasaki (+ 1622). The following day, on the same spot, three boys were killed (Gaspar, Francis and Peter), children of parents martyred the previous day. At about the same time and in different places there were further martyrs.

- 10/9: First departure for Africa (Sudan, 1857) of St. Daniel Comboni, together with four other priests and a layperson, members of the missionary expedition of Don Nicola Mazza, from Verona.

- 11/9: St. Jean G. Perboyre (1802-1840), a French Vincentian priest and missionary to China, where he was imprisoned, nailed to a cross and strangled in the Province of Hubei.

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Compiled by Fr. Romeo Ballan, MCCJ - Comboni Missionaries (Verona)
Translated by Fr. Henry Redaelli, MCCJ
Website:    www.euntes.net    “The Word for Mission”

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XXIII Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B