Week 23, Sunday. Words of THE WORD.

“You are just O Lord and Your judgment is right; treat Your servant in accord with Your merciful love. (Psalm 119:137, 124)

O God,
by whom we are redeemed and receive adoption,
look graciously upon your beloved sons and daughters,
that those who believe in Christ
may receive true freedom and an everlasting inheritance.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever.

RESPONSORIAL PSALM (click for full Psalm)
Praise the Lord, my soul! (Psalm 146:1).

SCRIPTURE EXCERPT (click for all readings)
“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. (Mark 7:31-37).”
This Sunday’s proclamation from the Gospel according to Saint Mark opens with Jesus traveling an impressible distance: from Tyre to the district of the Decapolis (click here to see a map) and once there, an event with meticulous and vivid detail unfolds. When Jesus got to the district of the Decapolis (an alliance of 10 Greek cities, south of the Sea of Galilee, formed to help preserve and advance their culture and commercial interests), nameless “people” brought to Jesus a “deaf man who had a speech impediment.” (Are you hearing any echoes of evangelization or The New Evangelization here?) Reminiscent of an episode earlier in Mark’s Gospel, the paralyzed man being brought to Jesus by 4 people, once again ‘others’ are instrumental in bringing people to an encounter with the Person, Jesus.
Interestingly, the people who bring the deaf man to Jesus want Him “to lay his hand on him,” a gesture certainly familiar to many people who witnessed various healings by Jesus. Yet this time, Jesus follows a different course of action by removing Himself and the deaf man from the crowd and using His fingers and spittle. Some scholars suggest that the Greek people of the Decapolis would have recognized these gestures as inherently healing, even though Jesus and the deaf man are off by themselves. But then there is the curious record of Jesus ‘groaning’ followed by 2 commands: “Be opened” and ‘tell no one.’

στενάζω (stenázo) is the Greek verb translated here “to groan” (and it can also be translated “to sigh”). There are certainly situations and circumstances that pop up in day-to-day living that cause one to groan or to sigh, many of them involving disappointment that a particular course of action did not result the way I thought it would. In the biblical world of the Gospels, though, στενάζω is often used as a response to oppression. Someone or something is actively preventing a person or people from living fully and another is needed in order to remove the oppression (for example, the Hebrew people caught in the slavery bondage of Egypt). στενάζω also signals to the people of the Decapolis that Jesus’ work is in no way associated with variants of Greek magical rites but a recognition of the reality of oppression that must be conquered. Jesus conquers the oppression here and, as the Cross looms ever present in His Public Ministry, He will definitely conquer all oppression and then command His disciples to freely and boldly speak of Him and His power to liberate humanity.

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