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SEPTEMBER 6, 2009: TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

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

Some years ago HBO presented an Easter Sunday program on miracles. To the chagrin of some viewers, most of the program debunked several prominent Christian miracle workers. But close to the end, the announcer said, “Now we’ll take you to a place where miracles really happen: Lourdes.”

He briefly mentioned the medically “certified” miracles which have occurred at the shrine over the last 150 years, but then zeroed in on what the producers believed to be really miraculous: the dignified way in which the sick and suffering are treated when they come to the shrine. “That,” the announcer claimed, “is Lourdes’ real miracle.”

James couldn’t agree more. Today’s entire pericope revolves around that conviction. “My brothers and sisters, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.” The author’s thesis is clear: “Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him?”

Although James talks about the partiality that inevitably creeps into our judgment and actions when we’re confronted with both the rich and poor standing in front of us, similar prejudices color our choices in many other ways. From our first and third readings we can surface the different frame of mind with which we approach those with disabilities and those who live without such physical restrictions.

First Isaiah promises that God will remove these prejudices by taking away the conditions which trigger them. When Yahweh visit’s the Chosen People”. . . the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf will be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongues of the mute will sing.”

Mark’s Jesus seems to follow through on that concept when he takes the “deaf man who had a speech impediment” off by himself and cures him of both disabilities. (Though some might be bothered by his use of spit in working the miracle, scholars remind us that ancient miracle workers usually employed such elements in their work. Eventually some well-meaning Christians “cleaned up” Jesus’ miracles.)

The early Christian community believed what Isaiah said about the effects of Yahweh’s presence among the faithful were being realized in the risen Jesus’ presence among his followers. Obviously not every blind person received his or her sight. Nor did all deaf or lame individuals suddenly experience cures. But as we know from I Corinthians, chapter 11, whatever separated those who had such conditions from others in the community were expected to be broken down - especially during the Eucharist. What HBO observed at Lourdes, Paul expected to see every time Jesus’ followers gathered to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

A very significant, biblically-based document came from the Vatican shortly after Vatican 11. It stressed that there no longer was to be any distinction of persons during the Eucharist. Though we were told this primarily referred to the European custom of setting aside special seats for the royalty and other bigwigs, my pastor interpreted it as applying also to Holy Name and Altar Sodality Sundays. Everyone at the Eucharist should feel equal; no one is more privileged than others. (This is why a Saturday evening wedding Eucharist originally didn’t fulfill one’s Sunday obligation. It’s a special Eucharist for special people.)

When the General Instruction of the Roman Missal came out several years ago, most commentators said it was prompted by fear that the distinction between clergy and laity during the Eucharist was breaking down.