23rd Sunday Cycle B

At the end of the creation poem in Genesis chapter 1, we read that “God looked at all He had done and behold (it was) extremely good.”  But the rest of the Old testament is largely about the mess that people are making of this creation.  It was probably when Moses led enslaved tribes out of Egypt to freedom, that they adopted Yahweh as their god – or rather he adopted them.  It sowed the belief that God would always see them alright.  But about 500 years later, after a lot of ups and downs, they lost the land they believed God had given them and almost lost faith too.  But a prophet, one of the guardians of the faith, in his role of discerning the original and future plan of God for creation, told the people in dire straits that God would one day restore them to prosperity; we read of this expectation of the restoration of damaged creation in poetic and symbolic form in the first reading from Isaiah 35:4 – 7 – the blind will see, the deaf will hear etc. 

About 600 years after Isaiah’s pronouncement, and after many disappointments and disagreements amongst the Jews, Jesus became one of them – one of us.  It is probably a cousin of His who wrote the letter of James, where chapter 2, verses 1 – 5 are an example of the many wise things that he points out to those Jews living outwith their homeland and who had become followers of Jesus’ Way (Christians).  Although he tells them to treat people fairly, he makes no mention in the whole letter of the non-Jews among whom they were living.  Yet we know that Paul had worked widely in the area particularly welcoming Gentile converts.  This might be one of the many aspects of this letter that made the early church hesitant about adopting it as part of their scriptures.  However James’ suggestions for relationships with others is good and applicable also to us today, and we would even want to develop the idea to cover relationships with people of other faiths and of none, and extend them to cover people with other differences from what we might feel is the norm.

We know that Paul and Peter didn’t always see eye to eye about what attitude to have towards Gentile converts – Peter wanting to hold on to his Jewish customs and regulations.  Mark was more in favour of Paul’s liberal attitude, but when writing his Gospel he could find little evidence of Jesus’ attitude to non-Jews.  But he does tell the story of a Syro-phœnician woman where she says, even the dogs can eat the scraps under the table; and he improves on that in today’s gospel reading (Mark 7:31-37), where Jesus cures a deaf mute in Gentile territory.  In this passage Mark seems to have in mind the words of the prophet that were in the first reading; indeed, Mark uses the same, vary rare word for the speech defect (μογιλαλον) that is in Isaiah.  Yet he may not have also knowingly reflected the words of God at the end of the creation poem (quoted above) when he writes about the onlookers of the miracle, saying “He has done all things well.”

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