Isaiah 35:4-7; Psalm 146; James 2:1-5; Mark 7:31-37
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Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai
Care for those with disabilities
The readings today present us with God’s care for those with disabilities. In the first reading a prophecy was released through the mouth Isaiah that the one who is to free the lonely, poor and oppressed is coming. Those who are blind will see, the deaf will hear, and the land will once again become fertile. The prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He restored the hearing and speech of the man brought to him. Today’s psalm says “it is the Lord, who sets prisoners free. It is the Lord who gives sight to the blind, who raises up those who are bowed down. The Lord upholds the widow and orphan.” God’s care is unquantifiable. If we can care for one another in the same way, this world will be a better place.
Beloved, the healing method Jesus used involved touching. Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears and touched his tongue with spittle. This method like the anointing oil times tells us something about love and care for the disabled. There are people who believe that many disabled people around us are cursed by God; there are others who will rather take the lives of their disabled relatives rather than see them suffer; while a few others are even scared to touch them. This Sunday serves us another opportunity to learn something about the miracle of caring and loving for those with disabilities.
A disabled person is someone who has a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. This was the case of the man in the Gospel reading of today. Again, while this man was physically disabled; he was not spiritually disabled and so he received his healing. So, while he was being touched by Jesus, he could understand the signs given to him and his faith responded. Thus, was his miracle. Every miracle requires faith; not a passive faith but an active faith or a working faith. If we express adequate faith today we too shall be restored. This restoration may not be noticed because oftentimes we are so clouded with our problems that we don’t notice the miracles in our lives. Important miracles still happen but many of them go unnoticed.
Disability is an issue of prominent concern to Church functionaries, ministers, government agencies, social workers and other helping professionals. Many disabled persons experience isolation, stigma, and depression; others wrestle with questions related to their value, worth, and purpose. Why should this be? To what extent are we truly ministering to the needs of this people? Oftentimes we wait for Christmas and birthdays; we reserve our poor clothes for them; some that should be educated are not even brought close to chalk and pencil; we treat them unfairly and parade ourselves as Christians. Jesus had to educate the man in the Gospel by touching his ears and touching his tongue – because a man speaks what he hears. In our own little way let us insist on educating the disabled around us. No doubt many are making effort in this regard; but the abuse of these persons that we see on a daily basis cripples the credibility of the Christianity we practice. We can do more and we can do well. The people said of Jesus he has done all things well. What can be said of us today?
The Gospel says “And they brought him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they asked him to lay his hand on him.” Those that brought the deaf and dumb man to Jesus represent those who truly care for their disabled friend, brother or sister. If you can, what stops you from bringing your disabled siblings to Church gathering? Why cant you carry them to social gatherings? When you go out for relaxation; they don’t forbid relaxation too. When you go out for birthdays and studio shots what about them? Think about these things. Beloved, do not discriminate. St. James in the second reading makes us to understand that we should always deal with people by using the same criteria for each person because everyone is equal in the eyes of God.
Again, it is important to state here that the disabled today has become selling points for many pastors and healing ministers. Some of these persons are dragged to healing grounds only to be used for miracle games or gimmicks. Many pastors organize crusades calling for the lame, the crippled and others to come. In the case of Jesus, these people were brought to him; but for our pastors today they send for them – ‘bring the sick; bring the lame etc’. Beloved it has been proven that many of those ‘restored’ individuals who were televised are rather not known in their said communities or as soon as they leave these miracle grounds wether ‘player ground’ or ‘prayer ground’ these persons fall back to their disabled status. What then has happened? Fake miracle!
Fake miracles abound today. Many pastors continue to entice their gullible members with fake miracles. Recently a pastor was said to perform a miracle that was not in accordance with divine reasoning. How does God now credit your account? Divine reasoning shows that God favours the labour of our hands! God supports work and labour! His miracle will never suggest destruction of labour or corruption of human dignity. There is dignity in labour. Fyodor Dostoevsky says “Since man cannot live without miracles, he will provide himself with miracles of his own making. He will believe in witchcraft and sorcery, even though he may otherwise be a heretic, an atheist and a rebel.” (You can read that again).
Many people desire miracles from God. They want God to “prove” Himself to them. Many Christians are just in the Church waiting for God to perform miracle so that they can believe in him. This idea contradicts the scriptures and the teaching of the Church. We are not in the Church for miracle; we don’t believe because we see miracles and we don’t project miracle as a method of conversion. Any faith received by reason of miracle is a shallow faith that will disappear at the least of challenges. Precisely because of this Jesus said more blessed are those who have not seen yet believe. Again, scriptural tradition shows that no amount of miracle can preserve a believer. The Israelites constantly disobeyed and rebelled against God even though they saw all the miracles. One wouldn’t expect that those who experienced bread falling from heaven; sea parted and lots more will ever disobey God’s instruction but they did. In Luke 16:31 Abraham confirmed this experience when he says to the man asking for assistance that if they don’t believe Moses and the prophets even if someone rises from the dead they won’t believe. Therefore, miracle is not a divine bargain for loyalty. True Christians stay with God irrespective of miracles.
Am not saying those miracles don’t exist. There are miracles and plenty of such happen on a daily basis. The sacrament of healing: anointing of the sick and penance are avenues where many have been reported restored. Anointing of the sick is first of all for healing. It is important that this is said; especially now that people see this sacrament as something else. We must have a faith disposition and mentality towards these sacraments. Healing comes to those who are ready in faith. Again, healing comes by laying of hands. The people in the gospel knew this truth and so they requested Jesus to lay his hand on the disabled. Hand symbolizes power. Laying of hands by the apostles worked marvel. In our own days miracles are still happening via that means. Have faith in the sacramental power, don’t wonder about.
Lastly, we must admit that disabled persons are seldom hostile. Could this be their fault? Not exactly so. Some of them have been deprived of human care, love and concern that they have developed such defense for themselves. Beloved, let us learn to care and love and restore our disabled siblings. Let us not further abuse them with fake miracles. It is better to be kind and caring than to be unkind and perform miracles. God bless you!
Fr Galadima Bitrus, (OSA)
Today we are reflecting on the theme, HEALING MIRACLES. In both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, miracles, including those of healing, are strongly attested. Miracles, that is, events that are not explainable according to the ordinary workings of nature, are reported, sometimes as deeds of wonder (“thaumasìa” in Gk), other times as signs (“sȇmeìa” in Gk).
Sometimes miracles are performed directly by God and other times they are performed by charismatic prophets or priestly figures such as Moses and Aaron (cf. Exod 7-11), Elijah and Elisha (cf. 1 Kgs 17:8-24; 18:41-46; 2 Kgs 1:9-12; 4:1-7; 5:1-19; 7:6 etc.); Joshua and Samuel (cf. Josh 3:15-17; 4:7-18; 6:12-20; 1 Sam 4:3-11; 14:18; 2 Sam 11:11) etc.
The healing miracles of Jesus recorded in the Gospels and of his disciples recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, are part of this larger tradition of belief in God’s direct or mediated supernatural intervention in the ordinary workings of nature.
In the 1st Reading (Is 35:4-7), we read of the promise of divine supernatural intervention in the prophecy about the return of the Judeans from Babylon to Zion. According to experts of the geography of the ancient Near East, travelers from Babylonia to the land of Israel would move northwest along the River Euphrates, then southwest through Syria, in order to avoid the route that went directly west through the impassable desert.
But this prophecy insists that the Lord will make it possible for the exiles to go directly and quickly through the desert. In other words, there will be a divine disruption of the workings of nature, such that not only shall waters burst out in the desert (35:7) but also, the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf shall be opened (35:5), and the lame shall jump like the deer and the dumb shall shout aloud (35:6).
All this takes place so that Judean exiles can leave Babylon in jubilation and easily pass through the traditionally impassable desert back to the land of Judah.
The Psalm (Ps 146) agrees with the prophecy of Isaiah and attributes such kind of supernatural interventions to God, celebrating them as God’s way of doing things, “it is the Lord who opens the eyes of the blind.” Miracles, therefore, are part of God’s intervention scheme in favour of the less privileged and oppressed of society.
The Psalm enumerates such interventions in hymnic fashion: the Lord does justice to those who are oppressed, he gives bread to the hungry, he sets prisoners free, he raises up those who are bowed down, he protects the stranger, he upholds the orphan and the widow and thwarts the path of the wicked.
In the 2nd Reading (James 2:1-5), James the apostle of dialogue, mutual respect and mutual acknowledgment, calls on us to rid our faith of personal favouritisms for the wealthy and well to do of the world, meanwhile disrespecting the poor and less privileged (cf. 2:1-4).
The Apostle who reminded us last Sunday that pure and undefiled religion makes care for the widows and the orphans a major agenda alongside keeping oneself unstained by the world (cf. James 1:27), reminds us today that God has in fact chosen the poor to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him (cf. James 2:5).
In other words, while the privileged in the world feel important in the world because they have inherited it, our faith communities must be places where the poor find their sense of inheritance and importance. For often, being poor in the world is a result of building one’s priorities on the values of the kingdom and not giving in to the temptation to make it at all cost in the world. As such, the poor must be prioritized in every faith community that prioritizes the values of the kingdom.
The Gospel (Mk 7:31-37) continues the theme of healing miracles by means of which God erupts into the natural way of things in order to heal and to save, to uplift and to liberate. In the Gospel passage, a man who suffered from both blindless and speech impediment is brought to Jesus who intervenes and restores both his hearing and speech.
It is an unusual presentation of Jesus’ healing which ordinarily takes place by word alone, emphasizing Jesus’ divine transcendence. Here and in the healing of the blind man of Bethsaida in Mark 8:22-26, the healing is described in highly anthropomorphic terms (that is, the divine acting in a human way), with Jesus touching the ears of the deaf man and spitting and touching his tongue (7:33).
However, this way of telling stories is not entirely new among Jews. In Genesis, we have two accounts of creation: the first (Gen 1:1-2:4a) reflects the transcendental perspective in which God creates simply by saying the word, and the second (Gen 2:4b-3:24) an anthropomorphic one in which God is portrayed mixing clay, breathing into it and taking out of a man’s rib the material to make a woman, etc.
In any case, the healing of a man who is both blind and deaf bears an important lesson of Jesus’ commitment to raising the less privileged in society to a position of value in the scheme of God’s kingdom. For the blind and the deaf were equated with minors (Heb. “qatan”) and the mentally ill (Heb. “šoteh”) in some rabbinic sources and were as such not considered responsible for observing the law.
By nature, this one and the same man was destined to be considered like a perpetually mentally ill minor since he was both blind and dumb. The divine intervention in this man’s natural story restored him to the fullness of his freedom and dignity, and therefore raised him to the full status of a responsible member of society, with rights and privileges as well as obligations and duties.
The lesson for us, therefore, is simple: as men and women of faith, we recognize the ordinary workings of nature, but we believe that God who is the author of nature is not limited by its laws. For our sake, God is able and willing to supernaturally intervene in the ordinary workings of nature to make sure that we make it through the deserts and difficult situations of life and to ensure that we are fully restored to the original plans, he, the Lord has in store for us.
May God intervene in your story, to uplift and liberate you from whatever has compromised the workings of his grace in your life, and so restore you to the fullness of his will and plans for you.
Have a blessed week!