Today’s readings begin with the prophet Isaiah, who is well-known for containing prophecies regarding the Messiah. His is a hopeful message, of a joyful future, which envisages the healing and restoration of Israel. These prophecies are fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
‘Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.’ (Isaiah 35:5-6)
The Messiah helps to bring about the Kingdom of God, and the sign that it is here are these miraculous healings. They speak of a God who loves us, who longs to see humanity healed and restored. The mention of water in the desert and wilderness looks forward to John’s Gospel, where Jesus states:
“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (Jn 7:37-38)
Christ comes to give us healing and to fill us with the Holy Spirit. We experience living water in Baptism, when we are renewed and born again in Christ. The water is a sign of the Holy Spirit, God’s love active in the world, which heals and inspires His people.
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus leaves Capernaum after His discussions with the Pharisees and heads north, before returning to Galilee. The route He takes has troubled scholars, but rather than going over the mountains to Tyre and Sidon, Jesus goes around them, which ensures that both He and His disciples have access to fresh water, a key practical consideration in such an arid landscape. Jesus goes into a house and is approached by a woman whose daughter is suffering, begging for deliverance for her child. So Jesus replies:
‘“Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”’ (Mk 7: 27)
At first sight, the passage is difficult. Jesus appears to be insulting the woman because she is not Jewish, which is not a loving response. It is possible that Jesus’ reply is a reference to the following verse from the Book of Exodus:
‘“You shall be consecrated to me. Therefore you shall not eat any flesh that is torn by beasts in the field; you shall throw it to the dogs.”’ (Exodus 22:31
This makes sense given the preceding discussion of ritual purity with the Pharisees, which we read last week. Rather than seeing the Messiah as a Jewish Saviour for Jewish people, Jesus is in fact the Saviour of the world, not bound by ethnic concerns. Such concerns do not affect the mother in the Gospel, she simply wants her daughter to be healed, and has no truck with exclusive visions of religion. So she responds,
“Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” (Mk 7: 28)
At which point Jesus performs a healing miracle at a distance:
‘And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.’ (Mk 7: 29-30)
The woman makes a profession of faith. She trusts Jesus, and calls Him Lord. She understands that the Kingdom is a place for Gentiles as well as Jews. The Kingdom is for all, Jew and Greek, rich and poor alike. All are one in Christ, and God’s healing is for everyone. This reality is made manifest in the healing of the young girl. Jesus has uttered an exclusive Jewish understanding of the Messiah in order to demonstrate, through the woman’s response, that his mission is, in fact, much wider. In doing so, Jesus takes an existing common prejudice to show how God’s love, mercy, and healing are for all those who turn to Him.
As Jesus returns to Galilee, He is asked to heal a man.
‘And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha”, that is, “Be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.’ (Mk 7:33-35)
Both healings in the Gospel are done privately, they are not done for show, and they fulfil Isaiah’s prophecy from our first reading this morning. Despite Jesus telling people not to share the news of the healing, they do.
‘And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”’ (Mk 7:37)
Here Isaiah’s prophecy is quoted, as it has been fulfilled by Jesus, which is good news. And it is good news for Jews and non-Jews, for everyone. The Kingdom of God is a place of healing and restoration for all, a fact which the Church continues to proclaim. Rather than being an exclusive event for the Chosen People, healing and salvation are for all who turn to God. All are invited, all are welcome.
The reading from the Letter of James shows us how to live our lives as Christians in an authentic manner. We are all equal in the eyes of God. We should not make the distinctions in the way the world around us is so fond of doing. James’ letter reminds us that Christians are not supposed to judge by appearances. We are not supposed to treat the rich better than the poor, because, as Jesus has shown us, the Church is supposed to be a place which lives out a radical equality. We are all equal in the sight of God. No-one is better or worse than another.
‘Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?’ (James 2:5)
As Christians we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, we put our trust in Him, to be at work in us, and to save us. Little by little we are being transformed into the likeness of the one in whose image we are made. This is the wondrous gift of God’s grace. It is given, just like the Eucharistic Banquet of Christ’s Body and Blood, so that God can be at work in us, and through us. It is given so that we may be healed and transformed.
So let us pray that God may come to us, and pour out His healing love on us, and all the world. Let us pray that His will may be done, and His kingdom come, so that all may join in the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever. Amen.