Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept. 5)

Senses help us engage the world around us. They are one of the avenues to knowledge. They help us appreciate beauty. In this sense they take us from the purely physical or temporal to something beyond or greater than the transitory and limited. When we look at a masterpiece of art or a brilliant scene in nature, we at first notice the object or scene. But as our engagement continues, we start to be lifted up into an experience beyond what we are encountering.

Surely the object is still there but it is not just a well-crafted painting or sculpture; or it is not just an amazing forest, waterway, mountain or canyon. The experience leads us to something greater that is not always easy to define or describe. In this way “sight” and “sound” might be considered a gateway to something greater.

In the Scriptures sight and sound are many times used in this manner. When the Israelites as a people or particular individuals are suffering through oppression, despair, occupation or injustice the promise of relief comes through the image of the blind gaining sight or the deaf gaining the ability to hear.

Such is the case in the first reading for this Sunday’s liturgy. The reading is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. The prophet is speaking to those “whose hearts are frightened.” The general historical context for this part of Isaiah is the rise of Assyria and their desire for empire. War and oppression are either experienced or threatened, depending on the time. This coupled with the plight of those who are suffering from within Israel due to poverty and injustice hear a message of hope.

The prophet’s word reminds the people that God is the true King of Israel and he will come and deliver them. “Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.” In the time of salvation, the “eyes of the blind” will be opened, “the ears of the deaf be cleared.”

The Gospel passage recalls one of the miracles of Jesus – the cure of a deaf man in the district of the Decapolis. The four Gospel accounts recall many of Jesus’ miracles. Many deal with healings. The miracles serve many purposes. The most direct and immediate purpose is to bring relief to person being healed. Whether it is the recovery of sight or sound, the restoration of mobility, the release from the demonic, the cure of an illness or even the restoration of life, the individuals and their families are the first recipients of this grace.

Yet the power of that miracle goes beyond the individual and points to something greater for all peoples: salvation. The miracle recounted today recalls the words of Isaiah: “the ears of the deaf” will be cleared. God’s saving activity is happening in Jesus; he comes to save.

The world situation today raises many fears among peoples of all nations. The ongoing Covid dilemma, the recent troubles in Afghanistan, the plight of displaced peoples, natural disasters and the question of changing weather patterns or climate change are just some of the concerns that weigh heavily on many people these days.

For many they are the source of fear, anxiety or apprehension. The celebration today reminds us that God is our King and that through Jesus he offers us deliverance from our fears.

Jesus regularly and repeatedly calls us to faith. Many times Jesus’ miracles are tied, in one way or another, to faith. Perhaps the miracles of “sight” and “sound” can help us in this journey of deeper faith.

In the beginning I mentioned that the senses can lift us to something beyond what we see or hear or touch or taste or smell. It takes something on our part to allow this to happen. At the most basic level we need to take the time to appreciate what we are encountering. When this door is opened, something happens that we might not have been expecting, something that is beyond us.

Something similar can happen when we ponder the meaning of the miracle recounted today. We might consider it from the vantage point of our own limitations in hearing – or if we include those miracles involving the eyes – seeing. By this I am not referring to a physical limitation but rather to something larger – the way we see God and his saving activity in our lives today, right now.

Some questions we might ask ourselves to help in this reflection: Do I see God working in my life? Do I recognize the blessings he has given me today? Do I identify the times today that his healing mercy has come to me? Do I remember his saving deeds of the past and how they help me now?

The questions might seem to elicit a “yes” or “no” response but that is not the intention. Most of us will not be able to say “completely yes” or “completely no” to any of them. Acknowledging this, a door is opened for us to go deeper into the experience of faith and to experience the miracle ourselves.

The day of salvation has arrived. The deeper we journey into the life of faith the more we will see and hear. As the journey continues, fear is replaced with peace; anxiety with joy; anger with mercy; and animosity with love. These are the miracles that happen every day. Blest are they who can say: “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.