Sunday reflection: Mark 7:31–37

“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here.  For previous Green Room entries, click here.

This morning’s Gospel reading is Mark 7:31–37:

Again Jesus 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.”

My apologies for another brief reflection; I am traveling in Virginia and Sundays make for hectic travel days.

Today’s readings remind us of the Lord’s justice and mercy. We sometimes tend to think of those in balance rather than integrated together, do we not? Mercy tempers justice, and justice refines the quality of mercy by reminding us of the consequences of transgressions. We think in these terms most significantly in terms of sin, which we know should condemn us before God without the grace of Jesus Christ to save us. That does not mean we avoid all consequences of sin, but it does mean we have hope in the love of God.

What if justice and mercy are not so much part of a balance, but more of a whole? Consider the first reading for today, in which Isaiah prophesies for the Lord. God will come “with vindication [and] divine recompense,” the prophet instructs, two forms of justice, especially for an oppressed or persecuted group of people. The one who delivers this salvation will open the eyes of the blind, the ears of the deaf, and “the tongue of the mute will sing.” That is both justice and mercy for those who have suffered in these literal senses, and in a more allegorical sense for those who have been prevented from worshiping the Lord in full measure.

This is part of what we see in the healings Jesus performs during His ministry, including here. Jesus heals the lame, the sick, the blind, the deaf, all of whom are in one way or another set apart from the unity of the community of Israelites in this time. The healings are acts of mercy, quite clearly, as well as signs of Jesus’ power and His identity as Messiah. It also provides justice and restoration, not just to those healed (although quite clearly they have the fullest measure) but to the community as a whole. Families are healed and united more strongly than before, and those healed become evangelists for the proper worship of the Lord in these cases, even when instructed not to speak about their experiences.

Our second reading from James 2:1-5 underscores this outcome from the healings. James scolds the brethren for maintaining social-order distinctions among the growing community of Christians, explicitly in “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion,” meaning Jewish Christians outside of Judea. He exhorts followers to treat all alike, whether rich or poor or from high rank or low, they will have “made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs[.]” James reminds followers that “God [chose] those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom,” and that all are called into unity with them.

Seen from this perspective, the healings are both mercy and justice, as is Jesus’ mission itself. Justice is not just vindication on the human scale, or “divine recompense” from our own limited and selfish perspectives. Justice is a healing of the human community into a united whole, a restoration of the family of sons and daughters that the Lord created us to be. The fallen world is our mess, driven by our own ambitions, desires, and sinfulness. God’s mercy comes forth in salvation from the slavery and death that sin brings, and God’s justice is forming those who choose to return to Him into a family where we can all be vindicated, and recompense will flow from that unity in love.

We are all wounded in some way; we all need healing, a taste of both mercy and justice to give us the strength to choose Christ. The ranks, the orders, the social strata created by humans are all symptoms of our disunity, and a reflection of the Original Sin of choosing to attempt to usurp God by making ourselves the center of the universe. Jesus heals all of us in an attempt to bring us into unity. All we need to do is allow Him to open our eyes and ears.

“Ephphatha!” Be opened! That is a call for each and every one of us.

The front page image is a 14th-century mosaic from the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora (Istanbul, Turkey).