Twenty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year B

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Joseph S. Mostardi, O.S.A.
St. Augustine Friary
Chicago, Illinois

Readings 
Is 35:4-7a
Ps 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10
Jas 2:1-5
Mk 7:31-37

Having recently returned to the Gospel of St. Mark, after several weeks of hearing St. John’s discourse on the Eucharist, we discovered in last week’s Gospel that Jesus is attempting to open our minds and hearts both to what defiles us from within and also defines us as children of God. If we were to take last week’s Gospel at face value, we might find ourselves quite depressed over the listing of vices that can come forth from within each of us; vices that arequite prevalent in the very world that we live in. Yet, I believe coupled with Christ’s words in this week’s Gospel, we can see that it is in the definition of who we are as members of the Body of Christ that Jesus wants us to realize. He is not trying to depress us with our sinful nature but to challenge us to move beyond our human weaknesses, hoping that we will not define who we are in light of those weaknesses, but rise above them with God’s unconditional mercy.

Augustine reminds us that God is already present within each of us. Augustine’s understanding of God’s efforts to have us define ourselves as his children, is to have us increase our self-knowledge so that we can get to know God better. “Lord let me know myself so that I may know you.” What better way to define who we are in light of God’s grace in our lives. Yes, there are many ungraced moments that result from our not recognizing the strength that God continues to provide us. His grace is always there for the asking, but we hear in this week’s Gospel that we need to “be open” to that grace.

Jesus’s healing miracle, as related by St. Mark, has a unique content that is connected directly to St. Mark’s desire for us to get to know God not by what Jesus did in terms of miracles but through faith that comes with the conversion of mind and heart. The man in need of physical healing was most likely in need of spiritual healing as well, given the mistaken notion that anyone with such impediments is the result of either their sin or that of their parents. Jesus often tried to change that understanding to a more holistic approach of God’s mercy through physical healing, proving that it has nothing to do with past sin but the need for all of us to “be open” to God’s grace so that both physical and spiritual healing becomes possible in our lives.

His gentle touch and his words of healing to “be open” were an opportunity for that man to experience God’s mercy personally. Imagine what it did for him spiritually? During the past Year of Mercy, many of us used the definition of mercy as “God entering the chaos of another.” This defines perfectly what Jesus often would do when he was called upon to heal. Healing requires faith but due to physical weakness we often lose sight of that faith because we are overwhelmed by disease or tragedy which draws us back into ourselves defiled by despair. If we were to define ourselves as necessary recipients of God’s mercy, allowing Christ to enter the chaos of our lives, we open ourselves up to the possibility that we can and will be healed by God’s abundant Grace, converting our despair into hope, our sorrow into joy, and our lack of faith into a new trusting relationship with God. This is how we need to define who we are. We are reminded in the Letter of St. James that God chose the poor of the world to show the rich that his mercy and love reaches out to all so that we can define ourselves as rich in mercy. It requires us to “be open” to what God can and will do for us. The prophet Isaiah tells us that God’s divine recompense will come to save us… from the many defilements that often plague the human race.

We will never notice God’s presence from within if we remain closed to God’s love and mercy, closed to those graced moments when God makes himself known to us. These are the defining moments in our lives that will also come from within our very essence as a child of God. Make more room for the Lord by your openness to God’s Word and God’s mercy, which by its very nature will force out those evils that can make us feel less than we are in God’s eyes. Our openness to the Lord is what makes room for us to recognize the God “who knows us better than we know ourselves,” helping us to define who we are not by our faults but by the healing presence of the One who created us to be loved as we learn to love in return.