Father THOMAS IDERGARD SJ
Homily for 23rdSunday in Ordinary Time
Year B: Isaiah 35:4-7a; Ps 146; James 2:1-5; Mark 7:31-37
St. Eugenia Catholic Church, Stockholm (English Mass)
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
In our first reading from the Prophet Isaiah, we heard how a Jewish faithful of the first century read the signs of the time in order to understand the appearance of God’s salvation, the Messianic age: namely, when God himself shows his presence through incredible physical miracles.
This is why the early Church, which gave us the gospels, was so eager to tell about the physical miracles of Jesus, as the concrete, historical events that the eye witnesses, like the crowd in today’s gospel, experienced as a literal fulfilment of the prophecies, today also expressed by our responsorial psalm. In our time, the scepticism against, and rejection of, the miracles of Jesus, like the healing of the deaf man with speech impediments in today’s gospel, are motivated by the fact that they cannot be explained by empirical science. This has also caused some Christians to reduce the miracles to strange symbols for being nice.
But the denial of Jesus’s miracles as historical events is a denial of his divinity, as well as of God’s promises in the Old covenant. And the denial that God can and wants to perform miracles in the world, is a denial that God is Lord over matter, and thus a denial that God is God. When Jesus in the gospel tells the crowd not to inform others that he performed precisely the prophesized, Messianic miracles, it is because his upcoming death and resurrection will be needed to unveil the true meaning of all prophecies about God’s liberation, not only of Israel but of the whole of mankind.
If we believe that Jesus Christ is the one that he claims to be, the one that the eye witnesses and the apostles risked, and lost, their lives to proclaim, the one the Church at all times has professed; yes, then he isGod. The one who is Lord over everything there is, including matter and natural forces. The one who therefore uses matter and transcends natural forces to tell us something essential about himself, about us created by him and about how he allows himself to be seen and reached by us.
The depictions of the miracles of Jesus have a central role in the gospels, our historical sources of Jesus’s life, as concrete, historical events defining what differs him from prophets and wisdom teachers. Depictions that at all times, also today, tell that Jesus is God who became man to lead us to himself, and, heal us in all our brokenness and sin. Onlywith Jesus Christ of the miracles there is a hope for something more and better than our and our world’s limitations. Because only with Jesus Christ of the miracles divine life and divine force break into our world. If Jesus’s miracles were mere symbols, and if the most important thing with Jesus were his sermons as spiritual messages, then faith becomes a private feeling without repercussions in that, which we also are – physical beings in matter. Such a faith cannot save, i.e. grant eternal communion with God to soul and body, and will fade into an abstract, theoretical idea.
Just because Jesus’s miracles were the real events that independent eye witnesses have told, they alsohave a deeper spiritual meaning telling us something also in a time when medicine takes care of our physical health. This is the Catholic and Orthodox sacramental view: that God through his incarnation confers spiritual meaning through the matter he affects and transforms. Like St. Augustine pointed out: because Jesus is the Word made flesh, all his actions are also word.
And now we see that the deaf man with speech impediment also is each one of us.
God speaks in different ways to us through his Word, who has created all reality and calls us to communion with him. God’s Word is heard in the teaching and proclamation of the Church. In the message of the Bible. In the example of the saints. In the part of our conscience directed at the truth, i.e. not dependent upon casual feelings and opinions. In the beauty of the whole of Creation. In people, known and unknown, who in different ways cry out at us to recognize the image of God in them.
Faith is to listen to God’s Word, what God speaks. God’s Word does not burst out over us but transmits itself on a frequency that we often need to seek for. To live in eternal communion with God, starting here and now, is to constantly tune in our heart’s, our personality’s, receiver on God’s frequency. Doing that and listening to God’s Word, we can also speak. Speak so that what we say and do reflect the truth and love that God has revealed in Jesus Christ, and thus not aiming at making others feel comfortable, but helping them realise the need for conversion, to start listening to God. As we understood from our second reading from the Letter of St. James, our active, calibrated listening and talking is an ongoing process that we constantly need to be reminded of and constantly need to let ourselves into anew.
But we cannot do this on our own. We need healing. From all that we take in, which is not God’s Word. From an incomplete, limping speech in words and deeds that do not express the will of God. This our need for help is why Jesus Christ, being the healer in physical matter, offers himself to us and our healing, just as he did to the deaf man.
Jesus teaches us how to pray and what to pray for. He shows that true love is self-giving without demanding returns. He presents the values according to which we have to order everything in our lives, through the teaching of the Church. And his death and resurrection become a promise to open a way for us through death so that fear of death must not paralyze our listening and speaking; a promise we are now offered to receive into us, as part of our matter, through the Holy Eucharist. This is his “Ephata!”. Our sole contribution, small but decisive, is to will to come to him, to let him open more and more of our hearing and speech for God.