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As the Church continues her walk through Ordinary Time, we find ourselves back in Saint Mark’s gospel. The evangelist describes the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. The liturgical proclamation of these events and lessons invites believers to recommit themselves to the Lord Jesus.
As Saint Mark carries on, we are told today of a peculiar event. In contemporary terms, it sounds like some weird wet willy-type moment in reverse. The Lord Jesus puts his finger in someone’s ear, spits, and then touches the man’s mouth. It is an earthy moment, a very incarnational one. It shows the Lord Jesus is truly a man of the land. He is bringing everything into his ministry. He raises everything up to the level of grace and the power of God.
There is still, however, more to the experience. Something beyond even the earthy, human aspect of how ear wax and spit are used in the exercise of divine power. The deeper meaning is reflected in the healing of the man itself, after the odd ear and mouth situation.
For us to dive into the deeper meaning, however, we need to look at the other Scripture readings for today’s Mass. At Sunday Mass, the first reading is always a lead-in to the Gospel. It helps us to understand the depth of what is being done and taught in the Gospel.
For the first reading today, the Church gives us a portion of the prophet Isaiah. In the account, the prophet is describing the renewal of God’s people and the work of the Messiah when he comes. He writes: “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.”
The account is not limited to Isaiah. Throughout the teachings of the prophets, we are told repeatedly that the Messiah, who is the long awaited Anointed Savior, will be a mighty warrior and a wonder worker, but he will also be a man of humility, a father to the poor, and a refuge to the vulnerable and weak. He will reverse the sorrows of the suffering and make them into great blessings.
If someone were to have come and claimed to be the Messiah, but despised or neglected the poor, sick, and vulnerable, then that charlatan would not be the Messiah. The prophecies are distinct and the heart and work of the Messiah is clear. He will be a man of the lowly and the outcast.
This prophetic backdrop helps us to understand what the Lord Jesus is doing. He is fulfilling this portion of prophecy by revealing to us his sacred heart and the immense love is has for the outcast and rejected. He calls the suffering to himself, as we hear in today’s gospel reading: “And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him off by himself away from the crowd.”
As much as society at that time would have cast out the man in his afflictions, so much so – and even more so – does the Lord draw him close. He is a man of the peripheries, a companion to the rejected, and a healer to those who are afflicted.
But we’re not done. The Scripture readings today have another twist. After the first reading and the gospel, we have to give some attention to the second reading. It tends to apply or theologically develop the other readings of the Sunday Mass.
The second reading today is from the Letter of James. The apostle is initially writing to Jewish Christians who are being persecuted and are questioning their faith in Jesus Christ. He affirms their faith and gives multiple points on how Christians are called to live the new commandment of love. Today, we warns us against a partiality that favors the rich and influential. He tells us: “Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. 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?”
Yes, we who have chosen to follow the way of the Lord Jesus are called to live as he lived and to love as he loved. We are also called to go to the sick, poor, and rejected. We cannot merely be dazzled by the love-filled, selfless life of the Lord Jesus. We are called to continue that very way of life.
This means we must be a people of the earth and its trenches. We choose the poor, seek out the suffering, and also be a people of the peripheries. This is what it means to be a Christian. This is one of the pressing lessons of the our Scripture readings today.
Follow Father Jeffrey Kirby on Twitter: @fatherkirby