Reflection on the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary time B

by Fr. Francis Huwn Msfs

Jesus changed sunset into sunrise (Clement of Alexandria)

Isaiah 35:4-7a
Psalm 146:7,8-9,9-10
James 2:1-5
Mark 7:31-37

The miracle of Jesus which was narrated in the gospel took place in the regoin of Decapolis (Deka Polis in Greek), literally translated, Ten Cities. It was a federation of ten pagan cities within the area of Israel. Everything about these ten cities was Greek, including the way they were governed and their worship using the names of Greek gods. In these cities, the people resort to different greek gods and goddesses for wealth, healing, fertility, victory etc. Something like our socio-cultural context where people resort to Inyanga: sangoma and lugedla. But when someone was suffering, such as the deaf man in today’s gospel, they knew this pagan culture did not satisfy them, their only hope was Jesus. All the glitter of the Greek culture did not really fulfil their deepest longing, only Jesus. So they brought the deaf man with the speech impediment to Jesus.

As Jesus healed him, Jesus looked up to heaven and sighed. This groaning or sighing of Jesus expresses the need of humanity for healing from God. Since original sin, we are broken and wounded, and we are really groaning and sighing to God to put us right again. As Jesus groaned, he looked up to heaven because the deep healing we need only comes from heaven, not from anything that is ancient or modern Decapolis can offer, neither lugedla nor sangoma. And talking of healing original sin, the actions of Jesus in this healing miracle are part of the Rite of Baptism since the time of the early Church, as the priest blesses the ears and mouth of the newly baptised.

There are two things worth noting in the drama of Jesus healing that man. The man was healed because the people brought him to Jesus. We have to go to Jesus with our problems. We cannot stay where we are. We have to go to Jesus for our problems to be resolved and healed. Jesus is always there for us. When we are alone, Jesus is our friend waiting for us to approach him. When we are in darkness, Jesus is our light waiting to enlighten us. When we are in despair Jesus is the truth waiting to give us hope. When we are suffering, Jesus is our divine physician waiting to heal us and raise us up.

The second thing we notice is that Jesus took the man away from the crowd, so they were alone, Jesus and the man in need of Jesus’ healing. That time alone with Jesus was the most precious time in that man’s whole life; everything before this moment was leading to this special moment, and the rest of his life was transformed after this moment. These moments alone with Jesus were the most important moments of his life, they defined the rest of his life, and surely the rest of the lives of those who knew him and lived with him. Likewise, our moments with Jesus every day are the most important moments of our day, and define the rest of our day. It is during these moments alone with Jesus when he enlightens our darkness, changes our despair to hope, heals us to raise us up, “touches our ears to receive his word, and touches our mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God.” (Rite of Baptism p71)

Jesus is waiting for us, waiting for us to go away from the crowd to spend time with him. When Jesus said on the cross, “I thirst,” he was not just dehydrated, but also telling us of his longing for us to go away every day to spend time with him. How often do we recourse to prayer at home, in office, at work?

Three centuries before Christ, Alexander the Great took over all this part of the world and it adopted Greek culture which remained strong in the Decapolis. Mark concludes the account of the miracle in an extraordinary way by quoting what these Gentiles in pagan Decapolis say about Jesus, “He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” (Mark 7:37) Without realizing it, these Gentiles three centuries after Alexander are proclaiming that Isaiah’s prophecy in our first reading has been fulfilled in Jesus. After Jesus’ first visit we would not have expected such a response to Jesus any time soon.

This is what happens when we spend time with Jesus alone away from the crowd; we are transformed and the books of history are written differently. He “touches our ears to receive his word, and our mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God.” Jesus changes sunset into sunrise.