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SEPTEMBER 10, 2006: TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

Isaiah 35:4-7a
James 2:1-5
Mark 7:31-37

Many of us believe the reason each of the four evangelists allots so much space for Jesus' miracles is to prove beyond doubt that he's God. Serious students of Scripture tell us that's not correct. Christians believed the Capernaum carpenter was God before they even heard of gospels. By the time gospels were composed, Jesus' divinity was taken for granted. Our Christian Scriptures were directed to believers, not unbelievers. Besides, in the biblical world, working miracles wasn't necessarily a sign of divinity. A near-contemporary of Jesus, Apollonius of Tyana, supposedly worked hundreds of "documented" miracles, yet never claimed to be a god.

Our sacred authors include miracles in their narratives to demonstrate what kind of a God Jesus is.

Accustomed to a catechism faith, when we modern Christians feel an urge to surface God's attributes, we just turn to the appropriate section of the book, track down the proper question, and "Voila!" we find a comprehensive list of God's characteristics. We forget that the people who produced our Christian Scriptures had no catechisms; they had only their experiences of the risen Jesus present and working in their lives, experiences the writers wanted their readers to reflect upon. Only by surfacing how Jesus changed their lives could they surface what the divine Jesus was like.

That's why it shouldn't surprise us that in today's pericope, Mark invites us to think about how Jesus, as God, both opens our ears and gives us the ability to speak. Those who first heard this passage were amazed their faith in Jesus had enabled them to hear things they never heard before, not because the sounds hadn't been hitting their ears, but because they didn't have the ability to distinguish those specific sounds from others. The risen Jesus had pronounced "Ephphatha!" over each of them. And because they now heard new things, they were also able to speak new things, things that almost no one around them spoke.

James gives us an example of these new insights. Because each Christian had felt God's love in a special way through the presence of Jesus among them, they began to hear the cries of the poor in a way they had never heard before. Once they discovered that they're all equal in Jesus, they knew they never again could discriminate. That's why James urges his community, "My brothers and sisters, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. For if a man with gold rings and fine clothes comes into your assembly . . . ." Once our ears are open to new voices, we begin to act in new ways.

No wonder the early church loved to quote today's Isaiah reading. They had experienced the very things the prophet had assured his people Yahweh would eventually bring about. "Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing." They had stepped into a new world. It was like ". . . streams (bursting) forth in the desert and rivers in the steppe." They were able to live like they'd never lived before.

Jesus didn't come just to get us into heaven. He came also to help us enjoy a life we couldn't imagine experiencing without his being in it, a life that will carry us into eternity with him.

Jesus' gospel miracles are just one way second and third generation Christians gave voice to the newness they had achieved in their Christ-filled lives. It would be interesting, after reflecting on today's gospel, to compose some new gospel miracles, miracles which mirror our experiences of Jesus changing our lives. We might come up with a few the evangelists never thought of.