Homily for the Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Posted by Father Aaron on Sep 03, 2021

Isaiah 35:4-7a 4:1-2,6-8/ Psalm 146/ James 2:1-5/ Mark 7:31-37 

Theme: Be Truly Free

The first reading uses the image of the deaf person to show us what God would one day do for his people. The Israelites had shut their ears and no longer listened to the Lord. But one day God was to cure their deafness. By describing healing in the gospel reading, the gospel writer is saying that the messianic times promised in the first reading have arrived. Ears are now opened and tongues loosened in order to announce the gospel. The second reading continues this theme, describing death as a community deaf to the Word of God and to the voice of the poor. 

A free nature at the service of humanity is what the first reading of today emphasises. God created nature, but he did not lose interest in it. Nature is our home, and so God exercises his providence over nature, so that it may serve us. This divine providence “frees” the earth from its misery as emphasized in the following words: “the parched ground will become a marsh and the thirsty land springs of water” (Isaiah 35:6). God is the Lord of nature and freely exercises his absolute dominion over it to help us materially and spiritually. Materially, by making nature bear abundant fruit, so that we may feed ourselves with that fruit. Spiritually, by making us feel the power and weight of natural calamities, so that we may feel the need to look up to the Lord of nature and beg him for his blessing. Human pride, the enemy of our true good, is invited to humble itself before such natural misfortunes, which to us are like a platform enabling us to leave our pride aside and go back to God.

 In freeing the destructive powers of nature for a moment, God especially tries to free us from ourselves, which is what is really important. God is presented to us as our liberator. We humans are a mystery of flesh and spirit. God manifests his love for us by offering us a total liberation, which we need to accept with gratitude and a simple heart. He frees our flesh from illness. He does so directly, when it becomes necessary for our overall good, as happens with many sick persons who have been miraculously cured. He does so indirectly by the power that he has given us to study the human body, know its illnesses and treat them.

Today’s Gospel tells the story of how Jesus cured  a deaf and dumb man. But God also intervenes to cure our spirit. He cures us from mental illnesses, he frees us from the power of the devil and sin through the work of the Holy Spirit; he makes us strong before temptations and inclinations to evil. When and how does God, man’s liberator, act? These are questions to which only God has the answer. However, the most important thing for us is to be aware and fully certain that God loves us and wants what is good for us. It is also important for us to be humble and turn to God with simplicity and ask him, “Lord, free me from all illness; especially free me from myself so that my life may be a song of praise to your holy name.” 

James’ exhortation in the second reading fits in perfectly here: “My brothers, do not let class distinctions enter into your faith in Jesus Christ, our glorified Lord.” The believer, having been freed of himself by baptism and the Eucharist, cannot go back to the slavery of the past. It would be like overturning God’s liberation.“Everything he does is good” was the reaction of the crowd when they realized that Jesus had cured the deaf and dumb man. In addition to this, there are many gospel texts which narrate the good works of Jesus for man. Indeed, St Peter says of Jesus in one of his speeches to the early Christians that “he went about doing good.” John Paul II tells us that “The charity of Christians is the prolongation of the presence of Christ giving of himself.” Yes, Christ wishes to continue to do good among us and in our days through Christian believers. 

Christ wishes to continue to free us from material needs, illness, natural disasters and spiritual ailments, through Christian believers. Indeed, it is truly wonderful to observe the generosity of so many millions of Christians in rescuing the needy in any part of the world. Christ must truly be happy, for he can continue to do good in history through his Christians. At the same time, as Christian believers we must ask ourselves a few questions: am I personally doing all the good that I can do? Do I wish others, individually or as a community, would do good? What is the kind of good that I like to do: material good, spiritual good, or both at the same time? Am I convinced that through me the glorious Christ continues to be present among men and women and do good? To do good unto others in a disinterested way is a wonderful way to be truly free and free others. God has the whole world in his hands; he got you and me in his hands. What has been our own attitude towards our environment, our neighbours and especially the vulnerable? Destruction awaits us as a result of our negligence. It is clear that man, consciously or unconsciously, sees and perceives himself as “enslaved”, at least partially. 

We should observe that in his existence, man encounters many constraints at different times of his life. By experience, we know that we cannot free ourselves from such bonds on our own, especially when it comes to the deepest and strongest bonds. We need to be set free. But in order for this to happen, we must want to be set free. Because it just so happens that, due to inexplicable and often complex reasons, we love the “sweet” constraints that enslave us. But they are bonds that are as sweet as they may be, gradually strangling us until they kill our freedom. Some few lessons for our reflection: 

• One of God’s attributes is that he is “the liberator”. This is the attribute which this Sunday’s liturgical texts especially focuses on. We have become so dumb and deaf that we have failed our prophetic role; we have failed to speak against the follies and foibles of society. John Paul II of blessed memory tells us that the charity of Christians is the prolongation of the presence of Christ giving of himself. The poor and the vulnerable among us are crying for freedom. If they are discriminated against in the secular society, they want to enjoy freedom in God’s house. This too has eluded them. 

• It is said that a truly free person is one who acts responsibly. God frees all human beings from their sad condition of outcasts and he frees nature from its barren dryness (First Reading). He frees us from illnesses of the heart and of the spirit, “everything he does is good, he makes the deaf hear and the mute speak” (Gospel). He frees the Christian from any distinctions of class, for whether we are rich or poor; we are all the same before God (Gospel). 

• One who is truly free is one who enables others to enjoy their freedom. The reason why we do not desire others to enjoy their freedom is that we ourselves are slaves to our passions and desires. Are you truly free? God is our true liberator. Our true liberator is Jesus Christ who died for us and rose from the dead for us. Have you accepted, do you really accept with all your heart, the freedom offered by Jesus Christ? If you want to be set free, have no doubts, he will free you. Having deeply experienced Christ’s liberation, you will be spurred on to tell others who it is that can grant them the real freedom they are seeking. 

In conclusion, liberation, therefore, is possible only for those who wish to be freed. Another aspect to consider is who to turn to in order to be set free. In our world and in our environment, there are many people who claim to be “liberators”, because what they see is not man in his greatness and dignity, but the foul pits of his passions, his selfishness, ambitions, nightmares and instincts.