23RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR B ON SEPTEMBER 5, 2021 (R. 1: Isaiah 35: 4- 7a; Psalm 146: 7, 8- 9, 9- 10; R. 2: James 2: 1- 5; Gospel: Mark 7: 31- 37)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
BE LIKE THE ONE YOU WORSHIP
The leader of the women’s group of a particular Christian Church was telling her little boy what manner of person a Christian should be. When the lesson was over, the boy surprised the mother with the question, “Mom, does any Christian come to our Church?” G.K. Chesterton is noted to have said, “It isn’t that Christianity has been tried and found wanting. It is that it has been found difficult and never tried.”
Our Second Reading today is from the Letter of St. James. The author of this letter is renowned for his emphasis on the fact that faith and works go hand in hand. You cannot claim to have faith if you have no good works to show for it. We live in a world that is bedeviled by different forms of partiality, preferential treatments in favor of the rich, inequalities, double standards, etc. James dealt with such situations in his immediate community. In today’s passage, he makes it clear that if we have faith in Jesus Christ, we must not show partiality in how we treat people, for that is not the way of God.
While in exile, the Israelites got the consoling message through the prophet Isaiah, that the Lord would come, and when he comes, there would be restoration; the blind would see, the deaf would hear, the mute would speak, the lame would walk. His mission would be that of vindication, which would bring about fairness and equality. In the Gospel passage, Jesus arrives as the fulfillment of that prophecy bringing healing to the deaf man, who had a speech impediment. God is already among us with the coming of Jesus. The sun shines but as an individual, if you lock yourself up in a room you will not have access to the shining sun. Similarly, God has come to be with us in Jesus, but it is possible for an individual to deny oneself access to Jesus. How do you know if you share in the Kingdom of God that has come in Jesus? Find your answer in how you treat people. Do you favor the rich against the poor, the intelligent against the not intelligent, the citizen against the alien etc?
Our liturgical assembly is a replica of Heaven. At Mass, all men and women are truly brothers and sisters with equal rights and dignity. Notice how there is no first-class, business class or economy seating at Mass. Notice how the quantity of Holy Communion you receive is not determined by how much you put in the envelope. The employer and the employee; the teacher and the student; the rich and the poor, all share the same pews. From the simplest chapel to the most elaborate and beautiful Cathedral , all are welcome. At the Mass, in praying the Lord’s Prayer, we all call on the same Father “Our Father…” despite our different last names; our different accents; our different languages, our different colors, etc. Our liturgical assembly is a rehearsal for Heaven. Here we worship God as the angels and saints do in heaven.
Our worship does not end in the Church. Pythagoras, the Greek Philosopher is noted to have said, “The sum total of your religion is to be like the One you worship.” St. Peter on his part makes it more specific, “Be holy as your Father in heaven is holy” (1 Peter 1:15), while St. James in the Second reading admonishes us to learn from Jesus and keep away from partiality. This is a call to discipleship. Two things that stand in the way of discipleship are the inability to listen and the inability to speak. Jesus has come to give us the grace to listen and understand the message. This is symbolized in the healing of the deaf man with speech impediment in today’s Gospel passage. Having heard the message, having been schooled in the school of Jesus, we are enjoined to speak what we have heard, to speak in words and actions. At the ordination of deacons, the Bishop hands the book of the gospels to the newly ordained and says, “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.” And to all of us Catholics, the Mass does not end here. The other very important part of the Mass is how we live the Mass outside the Church. That is why the priest or deacon says before we leave, “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.” We are by these words commissioned to go to the heart of the world with the heart of Christ.