Reflection for Sunday – September 5,2021
Readings: Isaiah 35: 4-7a; James 2: 1-5; Mark 7:31-37
Preacher: Sr. Barbara Moore
One can easily see how the early church made a connection between our first reading from Isaiah and Jesus’ actions in Mark’s Gospel. Isaiah writes that God will, “open the eyes of the blind…the ears of the deaf will be cleared… (and) the tongue of the mute will sing.” And today, near the Sea of Galilee, a deaf man with a speech impediment is healed.
Those of us who live in the Rochester, N.Y., area may be a bit more aware of the context and are sensitive to the culture of the deaf community. We have about 700,000 men and women living in our area and among them is the largest deaf community per capita in the United States. It is estimated that 90,000 deaf men and women reside here. Of course, those numbers are greatly influenced by the National Technical Institute for the Deaf which is part of Rochester Institute of Technology. Younger students may attend the Rochester School for the Deaf. These intuitions have been about the business of inclusion and breaking boundaries between and among people, as well as service, healing and inclusion for the hearing impaired and our deaf brothers and sisters. These realities give us a deeper appreciation for our readings this week. Of course, the culture and context of Jesus’ day is important to understand when reading this Gospel, and perhaps a theme that is surfacing is, “The breaking of boundaries.”
The first boundary that Jesus is breaking is mentioned as the Gospel opens. He is traveling into and around Gentile territory. “He returned from the region of Tyre and went by way of Sidon toward the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.” Earlier in this chapter from Mark, he is in the same region and heals the child of the Syrophoenician woman. Jesus is stepping into a foreign place—a Gentile territory that was by strict rules to be avoided. And in addition, he is responding to the faith and the request of a Gentile woman, made in public. Another boundary crossed! Her request made him change his mind.
Geographically, we could conclude that the man they brought to Jesus might have been a Gentile. And while Roman culture saw spittle as curative, Jesus’ culture saw it as a form of impurity. And so, another boundary is crossedwhen he uses it to heal this man—a soul so separated in many ways from his community. He could not see or clearly speak to others. Yet some in the crowd must have cared for him because they begged Jesus to heal him. The boundary of social isolation was also overcome by this cure.
Early in Christian history the leaders of the Church began to make the links between the words of the Prophets and the actions of Jesus. This is so evident when we link our first reading from Isaiah and the miracle today. The boundaries between the ancient faith of the people and the actions of Jesus were melting as they witnessed his actions and heard his words. And even James in our second reading is urging his listeners to “show no partiality as you adhere to the faith…” That is a boundary breaking request.
How well are you and I doing in this “boundary” breaking business? One step is a realization of the boundaries that separate so many people these days. You know them and often they are referred to in these reflections. Race, gender, religion, income, politics, age, physical walls and on we could go.
Jesus appears to be motivated by compassion. Need supersedes geographic boundaries and healing rises above possible impurity. When illness, loss, rejection enter our lives, boundaries often disappear as we experience those extending their help to us. Grudges, history, old hurts also tend to disappear when we are moved with compassion for others. James was correct when he wrote, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only…”