The Word became flesh: the healing power of touch

For over a year, many people went without consistent, physical touch, a necessary but painful measure to help minimize the spread of Covid-19. As we re-emerge and return to some sense of normalcy, many of us are able to reconnect physically and reap the benefits of touch. The first reading and the Gospel offer reminders of God’s intimate, physical love and care for humanity and all of creation. The second reading includes an important note about how we treat one another, despite physical differences.

He took him away from the crowd. (Mk 7:33)

Liturgical day

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Readings

Is 35:4-7; Ps 146; Jas 2:1-5; Mk 7:31-37

Prayer

What aspects of your life do you want God to heal?

How can you help people in your community to find healing?

The first reading from Isaiah describes a time of renewal and restoration after a period of destruction surrounding the Babylonian exile. The prophet speaks of redemption that comes to the land thanks to God’s saving power to restore what has been damaged. The entire Earth community is renewed, not only humans. The arid regions spring forth with water and vegetation, and animals live in harmony (Is 35:1-2, 9). Humanity is also strengthened by God. Isaiah describes people with physical challenges being able to see, hear, walk and speak. These new or renewed abilities are a sign of improvement in the land.

The renewal imagined by Isaiah is not only physical. The prophet connects these attributes with spiritual growth and quests for justice. For instance, when he speaks of ideal leaders, Isaiah says that they make people see, listen, possess good judgment and speak well, and this allows justice and righteousness to fill the land (Is 32:1-4). After the exile, the land is touched by God, blessed, renewed and called to promote justice.

God’s touch is also central to today’s Gospel. A community brings a man to Jesus in search of healing. The man is unable to hear and has difficulty speaking. At this point in Mark, Jesus has performed several healings and miraculous acts. Some are public, such as Jesus exorcising the unclean spirit in the synagogue and Jesus feeding the multitudes (Mk 1:21-28, 6:30-44). Others have a much smaller audience, like Jesus healing the young girl in the presence of her parents and three disciples (Mk 5:35-43). Although the crowd initiates today’s healing, Jesus restores the man in private in a very personal manner.

Mark emphasizes that Jesus “took him off by himself away from the crowd.” Jesus heals the man’s hearing by putting his fingers into the man’s ears. Jesus heals his speech by using his own saliva and putting it onto the man’s tongue. These techniques of healing reveal the intimate care that Jesus desires to give, even offering part of himself to facilitate the healing. Jesus demonstrates his powers to heal in various ways in the Gospel, and this healing is among the most intimate methods.

Between these two readings about restoration, we hear a portion of the letter of James that gives guidance on how to treat people with differing physical appearances. James reminds the community not to show partiality or favoritism based on a person’s wealth or physical appearance. Such a warning reveals some of the challenges and shortcomings of his community, in which perhaps many were showing disregard to people in need. To combat this, James reminds the community of God’s care for the poor and most vulnerable groups.

Each of today’s readings can inspire our prayers and our actions. The first reading and the Gospel reveal God’s power to renew us, even during and especially after periods of suffering. These readings also remind us to care for the physical and spiritual needs of our communities, using Christ as our model. In addition, the second reading reminds us not to discriminate in our care for one another, treating all people with dignity and respect.