John R. Donahue
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (B), September 10, 2000
The God of Jacob keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed (Ps. 146:7)

While last Sunday’s readings sounded sober warnings, today’s readings celebrate the saving deeds of God. The reading from Isaiah opens with one of the most frequent biblical commands, Fear not, and then looks to the divine deliverance from exile when the blind, deaf, lame and the speechless will be healed and praise God. The psalm sings of a God who gives sight to the blind, raises up those who are bowed down and welcomes strangers, a theme that is then picked up in James. The Gospel is a virtual fulfillment of Isaiah, as Jesus heals a deaf man who is unable to speak.

While both Isaiah and the Gospel long for physical healing, the ailments listed are also symbolic of interior sufferings, consisting often of blindness to the needs of the neighbor, inability to hear God’s voice and move beyond a certain place, or to speak words of praise and consolation. James captures this with vivid irony when the people welcome the person fashionably dressed with gold rings while ignoring the poor man, who is poor only in the eyes of the world, but is rich in faith.

These readings pose a special challenge today as prosperity seems to grow by leaps and bounds, along with blindness toward those left aside by the new economy, or who cannot even speak plainly about their concerns.

Yet the readings speak of a God who is partial to the voiceless and afflicted. Jesus enters the world of the speechless with healing touches and gestures. The person healed becomes a witness to the power of God. A church that is to witness to its Jewish heritage and to the example of Jesus must be partial to those who are bowed down and through its healing presence give a voice to the voiceless.

 

John R. Donahue, S.J., is professor of New Testament studies at the Jesuit School of Theology and Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, Calif.

Readings: 
Readings: Is. 35:4-7; Ps. 146; Jas. 2:1-5; Mk. 7:31-37
Prayer: 

• James calls God “the Father of lights.” Recall in prayer times when God’s word has been a light to your path.

 

• Pray about ways in which set habits of acting (human traditions) can lead our hearts away from God (Is. 29:13).

• Isaiah proclaims to frightened hearts, “Be strong, fear not.” Ask for the strength to “speak plainly” of God’s saving deeds.