23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B
Note: Where a Scripture text is underlined in the body of this
discussion, it is recommended that the reader look up and read that
1st Reading - Isaiah 35:4-7a
Isaiah, his name means “Yahweh is salvation,” is one of the
most outstanding and most important of the prophets. He was born around
760 B.C. and lived in Jerusalem. There is a good basis for thinking
that he belonged to a distinguished priestly and perhaps noble family,
judging from his education and culture and from his contacts with the
court and nobility of the kingdom of Judah. He was married, with two
children. In the year 742 B.C., on the death of King Uzziah, he
received his calling as a prophet in a vision in the Temple of
Jerusalem (Isaiah 6:1-8). From the moment Isaiah received his vocation
he knew no rest. He was charged with proclaiming the downfall of Israel
and of Judah in punishment for the unfaithfulness of the people and
their failure to repent. Hebrew legend has it that Isaiah was put
inside a hollow log and sawn in half during the reign of King Manasseh.
The book of Isaiah divides into 3 parts:
1) The book of the judgments of God (chapters 1-39),
2) The book of the consolation of Israel (chapters
40-55), and 3) Prophesies which extend the book of consolation
Today’s reading comes from chapter 35 which is part of the book
of the judgments of God and speaks of the joy of restoration after God
has passed judgment upon Edom (chapter 34).
4 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. 5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of
the deaf be cleared;
The most unfortunate among the exiled will be among the first to share
the blessings (see Matthew 11:4-5 for a sign that the Messianic age has
6 Then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the dumb will
sing. Streams will burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe.
7a The burning sands will become pools, and the thirsty ground, springs
2nd Reading - James 2:1-5
James (Jacob in Hebrew, it means “let God protect”) wrote
this letter around A.D. 60. In it he shows himself to be steeped in the
Old Testament and in the teachings of Jesus deriving from the Sermon on
the Mount. He is writing to the “twelve tribes of the
dispersion” (James 1:1). He seeks to encourage them to bear
persecution bravely and to practice the Christian virtues, especially
patience in the face of trial, and control of the tongue.
Saint James also gives great importance to care for the poor and
humble, advising Christians not to give preference to people who are
well-to-do or have a high social position – the reason being that
Jesus was no respecter of status, and Christians should imitate Him.
Our Lord loves both poor and rich, educated and uneducated – He
gave His life for everyone. The subject of today’s reading is
that we should not grade people according to external appearance, for a
person’s quality is something that derives from his union with
God – the more humble and understanding he is, the more honor he
2:1 My brothers [and sisters],
“My brothers” is Christian form of address, found widely
also in Jewish usage, is used 15 times in James (sometimes without the
“my”), usually in the context of an urgent appeal.
show no partiality
There is no partiality in God (Romans 2:11; Colossians 3:25; Ephesians 6:9).
as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.
Literally “our Lord of glory.” The great glory of the Lord
in whom we believe should nullify all such impressions of worldly rank
or status as would lead to partiality in conduct.
2 For if
This is not an actual incident, although very vividly described. This is a hypothetical situation
a man with gold rings on his fingers and in fine clothes comes into your assembly,
Actually, into the synagogue, the place of assembly. This indicates the Judeo-Christian background of the writer.
and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in,
The rich man and the poor person are pictured as strangers to the
community so that their social status is known only by their
3 and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say,
“Sit here, please,” Is offered a seat of honor
(Matthew 23:6; Mark 12:39; Luke 11:43; 20:46).
while you say to the poor one, “Stand there,” or “Sit
at my feet,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves
and become judges with evil designs? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers. Did
not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith
The Old Testament belief is that the poor are the object of God’s
special care (Psalm 35:10) and of messianic blessings (Isaiah 61:1). 1
Corinthians 1:17-29 gives Paul’s explanation of this divine
choice – by reason of their faith they are rich.
and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him?
This is a covenant promise. See also the first Beatitude (Matthew 5:3;
Luke 6:20). Inheritance of the kingdom of heaven is the blessing which
results from keeping the covenant.
Gospel - Mark 7:31-37
Today we continue our journey through the Gospel of Mark. Last week we
heard the controversy about ritual purity, this week we skip over the
healing of the Canaanite woman’s daughter and hear of
Jesus’ healing of a man who is both deaf and mute. In this
miracle we can see a model of the way God acts on souls – for us
to believe, God must first open our heart so we can listen to His word.
31 Again he left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis.
This geographical route serves to link this episode with the previous
one and provide a Gentile setting for the feeding of the four thousand,
which follows immediately after this reading.
32 And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment
The word used here, mogilalds, occurs only here and in Isaiah 35:6
where it translates the Hebrew word for “dumb” (unable to
and begged him to lay his hand on him.
The imposition of hands on the sick was a common feature in ancient
healing rituals. It is based on the idea that the healer is a powerful
person and is able to transmit healing.
Healing through the imposition of hands is not mentioned in the Old
Testament or in rabbinical writings but is mentioned in one of the Dead
Sea scrolls. Imposition of hands is a common New Testament form of
healing and exorcism (Mark 5:5; 8:23-25; 16:18; Luke 4:40-41; 13:13;
Acts 9:12; 9:17-18; 28:8).
33 He took him off by himself away from the crowd.
The privacy of the cure echoes 1 Kings 17:19 where Elijah raises a boy
from the dead and 2 Kings 4:33 where Elisha raises a boy from the dead.
This privacy is also in keeping with the secrecy He sought in Mark
He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue;
These gestures by Jesus are sacramental in that they achieve what they
symbolize, the opening of the ears and the loosening of the tongue. It
may be that such details were remembered in the Gospel as a guide to
Christian healers in the early Church.
34 then he looked up to heaven and groaned,
Jesus prayed to God and was moved with compassion for the man.
and said to him, “Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”)
This utterance is usually understood to be the Aramaic word eppattah.
The Greek dianoigo, in the parenthetical translation, is relatively
rare in the New Testament, but it occurs 33 times in the Septuagint,
significantly in Ezekiel 24:27.
35 And (immediately) the man’s ears were
opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly.
The completeness of the cure is emphasized. “Ears opened”
may be an allusion to Isaiah 48:8. “Speak plainly”. See
“So open your ears and enjoy the good odor of eternal life which
has been breathed upon you by the grace of the sacraments. This we
pointed out to you as we celebrated the mystery of the opening and
said: ‘ephphatha,’ that is, ‘be opened,’ so
that everyone about to come to the table of grace might know what he
was asked and remember the way he once responded. Christ celebrated
this mystery in the Gospel, as we read, when He healed the one who was
deaf and dumb” [Saint Ambrose of Milan (A.D. 390), The Mysteries,
36 He ordered them not to tell anyone.
Jesus’ prohibition of talking about the cure is probably part of
Mark’s insistence that Jesus is more than a healer and that His
full identity only becomes known in the cross and resurrection. The
prohibition has the opposite effect. The reaction of the crowd gives
witness to the reality of the cure, while underlining Jesus’
But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it.
The verb “proclaimed” is ordinarily reserved by Saint Mark
for the preaching of Jesus and of the disciples; here it is used for
the crowd. It is a characteristically Christian term, strongly
connected with the proclamation of the Gospel (John 1:14; 13:10; 14:9),
and although the object of the man’s proclamation is not
specified, the implication both of the command to silence and of the
following verse is that he proclaimed the good news of Jesus as the
37 They were exceedingly astonished
Nowhere else does Mark emphasize so strongly the reaction of the crowd – an indication of its unusual significance.
and they said, “He has done all things well.
Many commentators see here an allusion to Genesis 1:31, implying that Jesus has brought about a new creation.
He makes the deaf hear and (the) mute speak.”
See Isaiah 35:5-6 (part of our first reading) which is part of a vision
of Israel’s glorious future. This brings out the theological
lesson of the cure: the age of Messianic salvation, announced by
Isaiah, has arrived with Jesus.
St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, Picayune, MS http://www.scborromeo.org