Christ Healing the Sick, 1813, by Washington Allston (1779-1843) Photo/Wikimedia Commons []

God intends for us life, abundance, happiness

  • August 27, 2015

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Sept. 6 (Isaiah 35:4-7; Psalm 146; James 2:1-5; Mark 7:31-37)

Do not fear! This call echoes throughout both the Old and New Testaments. It was often the greeting of an angel, intended to calm the fright of the person for whom they were bearing a message. It was uttered by Jesus on numerous occasions to pacify the terror of His followers — usually when He did something unusual, such as walking to them across the water. These were often the words of God, comforting the people after disaster and calamity and giving them hope for the future.

Fear is humanity’s constant companion, and from it spring many things: violence, hate, greed, insensitivity and cruelty. The besieged people of God in Isaiah were told not to fear and not to lose heart, for God was their champion and would protect them from their foes. Although today we would not (hopefully) see God as one who deals out vengeance and terrible recompense, the basic point still stands: rely on God rather than military or political power.

Isaiah had more: the coming of God will bring life in all its forms. Dry, wasted land will flow with abundant water. The lame, blind, deaf and mute will be healed. In other words, the land and the people will be restored to fullness, health and abundance. It was a promise given to a crushed and dispirited people — the Israelites in exile — and was intended to restore hope and refresh their collective sacred imagination. God is about life, abundance and happiness, and that is what God intends for humanity. Humanity has fallen away from divine teachings and brought misery on itself by not walking in harmony with God. Violence, economic and political instability, and environmental crises confront us daily. Fear seems to reign unchallenged, causing many to react in ways that mirror the darker side of the human psyche. Isaiah insisted that this sort of thing does not come from God, but from humans, and it is humanity that must solve it. But the essential element of any effective and lasting solution to the world’s problem is spiritual in nature. It involves the unrelenting practice of justice, non-violence, compassion, sharing, forgiveness, reconciliation and care for our world.

According to James, making distinctions between people — tailoring one’s attitude and behaviour towards them according to their wealth, status and influence — was a serious and even deadly sin. God does not do this — in fact, the New Testament went out of the way to insist that God is impartial and plays no favourites. One of the first steps in walking with God in harmony is to behave like God, and for James this meant treating all people with equal respect, dignity and compassion. Making distinctions between people is the root of inequality and injustice, while viewing them as God does begins the task of restoring the world.

At first glance, Jesus’ healing appears to be an act of compassion for the unfortunate deaf man. Indeed it was — but it was much more. This is an example of what scholars call “implicit Christology” — in other words, Jesus proclaims His divinity not by words but deeds. His healing of the deaf man reflected the image from Isaiah’s reading, as did His numerous healings of the blind and lame. The visitation of God meant healing and wholeness. The fact that Jesus performed these healings and restored people to wholeness signaled that God was indeed in their midst in the person of Jesus Himself. This was beginning to dawn on the astounded crowd as they took note of the skill and depth of His deeds on behalf of others. Jesus would have had better luck shouting into the wind than asking them to keep quiet about what He had done. The word was definitely out!

We might ask why God does not fix the world or our individual lives by just uttering a command like Jesus in the healing story. Life would be so much simpler. In fact, God often speaks the right words, but their power is blocked by our negativity, incomprehension and hardness of heart. Today the command “be opened” would be best directed at human minds and hearts. Wherever God — not theology or institutions — is revealed in compassionate and selfless conduct, the healing and transformation of our world begins. 

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