Caring For Those on the Fringe

9.9.18. Sun.  wk  23 – O.T. – B
Isaiah  35:  4 – 7a
St. James 2:  1- 5
Gospel  of  Mark  7:  31 – 37

Again he left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis.  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. He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”)  And [immediately] the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly.  He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it.  They were exceedingly astonished and they said, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and [the] mute speak.”    The Gospel of the Lord.

Homily:  Fr. Mike Murphy                  Caring For Those on the Fringe

Reflecting on today’s Gospel     , we must remember something about the time of †Jesus.  If anyone was sick, or if they were disabled, they were treated as if they were contaminated in some way.  They were thought to be a grave sinner and their disability or their illness was considered punishment by God for something they had done, or possibly one of their ancestors had done.  So when this deaf man with the speech impediment was brought to †Jesus, people stepped back to give him a wide berth.  Not because they wanted to show him pity – but because they didn’t want to touch him at all, or to be touched by him.  If that happened, they thought they would be contaminated in some way.  In fact, his friends who brought him – were judged the same way as that man was – they too were sinners, because they were touching this man who was clearly a grave sinner.  And if †Jesus was to touch this man, He would be in the same company.

But the people did not know something about †Jesus.  †Jesus has a special place in His heart for those with special needs: the blind, the lame, the deaf, and the mute.  Those who are rejected by society, those who live on the fringes of the culture, they find a friend in †Jesus.   †Jesus had no problem eating with sinners.  He invited many of them to follow Him – one of them was His own apostle – Matthew, a tax collector.  When †Jesus heals someone, while the miracle is important, there was something more important than just the physical healing.  It was a sign of God’s love and attention to all of us.

God was acting to heal and transform a world that is marred by brokenness and sin.  That was unheard of before that time.  They thought God didn’t care enough about the people to take such a personal interest in them.  And so the miracle – while wonderful and amazing – its purpose was to show the people – that now you can see – God is involved in your lives.  He does love you enough – He wants to have a relationship with us.

In the cure of the man, †Jesus performed a series of ritual actions.  We read in Mark’s Gospel: “He put His finger into the man’s ears and spitting – touched his tongue.  Then He looked up to heaven and groaned and said: ‘Ephphatha!’ – that is, “be opened’”! (Mark 7:33f)  Do you know what the significance of those actions were?  I haven’t got a clue!  I don’t!  (I have read commentary after commentary and I have not found an answer.)  But… in the 6th century St. Gregory the Great wrote: “The Spirit is called ‘The Finger of God’ and when the Lord put His finger into the ears of the deaf man – He was opening the soul of the man to faith – through the gift of the Holy Spirit”.  So again, it was a way of opening up the man to receive faith and the Holy Spirit.  Whether or not that was the real reason – we don’t know – but the act of touching the man had a clear message to it.  No one is beyond the touch of God.  No one is so far removed that the Lord cannot touch them with His love and His mercy.  No burden, and no problem we can have in life is too great – or too small for the Lord to care about.  He cares about everything that has to do with us.   And †Jesus was not afraid to draw close to engage this man – but also to engage us – and to heal us regardless of our sins.  Wherever we find our self in life – the Lord is not afraid to be close to us.  †Jesus comes to us in a way no less intimate than he did with that deaf man.  The Lord allows us to eat His Sacred Body and drink His Precious Blood – you can’t get more intimate than that!  †Jesus is closer to us than we are to ourselves.  And when our hearts are closed to God’s will – when we are disobedient, confused, sick or lost –  †Jesus comes to us in the intimacy of our hearts and says: “Ephphatha” – “Be opened”.  ‘Open the door of faith and trust in me’ – that’s what †Jesus says to us.

Mary was “blessed among women”.  One of the reasons “she was blessed among women” – was something that Elizabeth said to her.  “Blessed are you, who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled”. (Luke 1:45)  Mary trusted in the words of the Lord, and when our heart is open to faith – the door to heaven is also open to us.  We read in the Book of Revelation: “I had a vision of an open door to heaven and I heard the trumpetlike voice that had spoken to me before – saying: ‘Come up here…’” (Rev.4:1)  That’s what the Lord is saying to us.  “Come up here – come to me”.  Don’t hide in the corner because you think you’re no good or your sins are beyond the pale.  “Come up to me”.  The Lord is inviting us – He wants an intimate relationship with us all.

And †Jesus is challenging us today to open our ears to the Gospel message rather than ignoring it; to open our lips to proclaim the Gospel message rather than remaining silent out of fear or rejection by those in the culture.  When we are so preoccupied by what people might think of us – we are spiritually deaf and mute.  But today – †Jesus is here – to touch your ears and your heart with the ‘Finger of God’s word” – to touch your tongue and your soul with His Sacred Body and Precious Blood – and to make us all new again during this mass.  He wants to make us new again.

In our first reading from the prophecy of Isaiah – God promised to permanently alter the Promised Land.  We read: “Streams will burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe.  The burning sands will become pools, and the thirsty ground, springs of water”. (Is.35:6-7a)  Spiritually – these verses are also a promise from God to us – to alter us at the very core of our being – in our hearts and in our souls – that we too can change and He can change us.  And the sign that this transformation has taken place is how we look upon others.  How we treat others who might be on the fringes.  That’s a sign of whether or not we have allowed the Lord to transform us.

Here’s a Wild Idea!  Are you ready for this?  Grace – forgiveness – mercy and humility – when those are lived out on the margins of society – we awaken other hearts to the presence of God.  When we can live those virtues – those who are far away – will understand and know the presence of God.  And hearts that previously thought that God had abandoned them – will be open to know that God welcomes them.

In the midst of the abuse crisis – and in the failure of some priests and bishops – it is we who must hold on to this ‘Wild Idea’ – that Faith Communities like ours here at Sacred Heart – can transform the Church and the world.  Yes, in our small portion of the Lord’s Vineyard – we can change the Church – by our fidelity, our love, our prayer and our sacrifices.

In an essay entitled: “The Door is Always Open – That’s sort of – The Point of The Church – Isn’t It?”   Brian Doyle – writes: “The Church must be a sanctuary or else it’s just another corporation”.   This must be a sanctuary for all people – all people – great and small – perfect and imperfect – saints and sinners alike.  And if it’s not – then we just have a big multi-million dollar corporation.  That’s all we are.  We the Church must welcome all people to come and discover God’s presence – His love and mercy in this place – through us.  This is a ‘Wild Idea’ – I know – but it’s the truth.  We can live ‘holiness of life’ together as God’s people despite the failures of some in the Church.

In Matthew’s Gospel – †Jesus gives us the way to ‘Be Church’.  “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me”. (Matt.25:35f)  This is how we welcome those in need – how we bring the healing power of  †Jesus to those who feel abandoned.  Let us continue the healing that †Jesus began – showing our self to be merciful and compassionate to the most obstructed hearts.  Let our tongues be free to lift the spirit of others – to bring truth to falsehood – to bring love, mercy and compassion to those who are lost.

Never forget those who are lost.  They have a special place in the heart of  †Jesus.

In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.