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SEPTEMBER 9, 2012: TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

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

Contrary to popular belief, Jesus' gospel miracles aren't narrated to prove he's God. They're included in each gospel to show what kind of a God he is.

The original gospel readers already presume Jesus is God, otherwise they wouldn't be reading the gospels. Our evangelists don't have to prove Jesus' divinity. But knowing the word "god" means different things to different people, they're intent on sharing the specific insights about God's personality which Jesus of Nazareth demonstrates in his words and ministry.

One need only read the last chapter of Hemingway's Farewell to Arms to surface his idea of a horribly mean, vindictive god: someone who constantly thwarts any plan of happiness that we humans create. Fortunately the gospel Jesus never conveys such an image.

But the evangelists go much deeper than just saying that the divine Jesus is good; they show in what his goodness consists. Today, for instance, Mark depicts a Jesus who opens ears and gives speech, a miracle which takes us back to the image of Yahweh which Isaiah paints in our first reading.

"Here is your God," the prophet announces, "... he comes to save you. 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." This certainly dovetails with the concept of biblical salvation I addressed in last week's commentary.

But Mark's readers would have taken this idea one step further. Though they wouldn't necessarily question the historicity of Jesus' actions, they also would reflect on how those actions apply to their own lives, even if they aren't physically deaf or mute.

I presume that, by now, many of my regular readers have already gone to YouTube and checked out Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons' well-known experiment about the "Invisible Gorilla." The two psychologists presume no one can see or hear everything. No matter how sharp our hearing, or clear our sight, we consistently miss a lot. In the case of the gorilla, most people only saw what they were programmed to see; an obvious gorilla was invisible.

The historical Jesus' ministry revolved around helping us become aware of people and situations which many people never seem to notice, and eventually share that awareness with others.

Too bad YouTube didn't exist when the author of James' letter composed today's well-known passage. I presume he would have recorded the event and posted it on the internet alongside Chabris and Simon's gorilla experiment. "If a man with gold rings and fine clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person in shabby clothes also conies in ...." It isn't necessary to read further. We all know what the reaction to each man will be.

The writer begins by telling his community, "Show no partiality," then reminds them to "... Adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ." Biblical faith in someone implies you accept that person's values: you're committed to see and hear as that person sees and hears. In this particular case, Jesus sees neither the fine clothes or the shabby dress. He sees only a person whom "... God has chosen ... to be rich in faith and (an) heir to the kingdom . . . ." We're simply to see and hear as God sees and hears, as Jesus demonstrated through his words and ministry.

Spiritual author Ed Hays perfectly summed up the situation. "Jesus first followers," he once stated, "imitated him long before they worshipped him."