The readings for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time are all about participation. God invites us to participate in His ongoing creation. In His wisdom, He made us weak so we might participate in godliness. We are finite creatures with a hunger for the infinite, which keeps us hungering after God.
The greater our weakness, the more room we have for God to participate in our lives. “Here is your God, He comes with vindication; with divine recompense He comes to save you.” Those who are most in need will recognize God’s goodness more than ordinary people.
“Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.” The blind, the deaf and the lame know that no earthly power can heal them. For them, hope in God is everything. Hope in God is a gift that enables them to turn to God for what only He can do.
Here, God Himself tells them to “be strong, fear not! Here is your God.” God fuels their hope — that invisible power and trust that there is a future with God that is better than the present. This hope is open-ended and places no limits on fulfillment. This hope leads one to deepen his or her relationship with God even though God has not yet fulfilled their expectations. That God has given them a hunger for His goodness means they already participate in His goodness. They are led by God to expect this participation to grow stronger over the years and eventually result in a deeper participation in God’s very ongoing creation.
“Streams will burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe.” When individuals experience a profound deficiency, their spirits are thirsting for the living God. Then, streams of living water will wash over their thirsting spirits to nurture them with an experience of a living God who bathes them in the refreshment that their spirits crave. This refreshment is the godliness for which their hearts were led to crave.
St. James develops this theme further when he tells his disciples not to prefer the wealthy to the poor. He says: “Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that He promised to those who love Him?”
In a sense, James tells his followers to reach out to the poor because the poor seem to have a greater claim on God’s goodness. God is the only answer to their need. Therefore, when we reach out to the poor, it’s God in us reaching out. We are participating in the poor receiving blessings from God. “The Lord hears the cry of the poor,” and when we hear the cry of the poor, we experience God crying out through us! When He allows us to experience His poverty in the poor, He visits us in our poverty. Then we can paraphrase Mary’s “Magnificat” by saying, “He who is mighty is doing great things in us and holy is His name!”
The readings reach their climax in the Gospel, when the man who is deaf and dumb meets Jesus. Notice, it is his friends who brought this man to Jesus. They were hungering for something the world could not give. They had faith that Jesus could do something phenomenal in this man’s life. They were hungering for an outbreak of God’s wonders in his life.
Jesus immediately took the man away from the noise of the crowd. He wanted some down time with this distressed man. “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!’ — ‘Be opened!’ And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed and he spoke plainly.”
Imagine the joy of this man and his family, as he never tired of telling others the miracle Jesus performed in his life. We can also imagine the joy of his friends who participated in this miracle by helping him make connections with Jesus.
These readings are all about you and me. We may not have been physically blind or physically deaf, but all of us have experienced spiritual confusion and spiritual deafness. We may have even gone so far as to think that God might profit by visiting our audiologist.
Perhaps it was our friends who led us to a renewal weekend in CRHP, ACTS, Life in the Spirit Seminar, or some other spiritual encounter. They knew what we needed, and they wanted to participate in our search. They knew we were hungering for more than we had received. They were confident that Jesus wanted us to experience His mercy and His healing in a more profound way.
What a joy it was for us to experience Jesus Christ to come alive in our hearts in a way we never thought possible. All our adult life we thought we had to fix ourselves up, even though we failed over and over again. Then suddenly we met Jesus as the answer to our hungers.
We all have relatives and friends who are hungering to participate in the life of Jesus and do not know how to get started. God calls us to participate in their hungers and their searching. Take their hungers to prayer and allow Jesus to speak to your heart. Then “do whatever He tells you.”