Be Opened!

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

In this season of political campaigns, a lot is being said, it seems, to sway the average voter to see reality a certain way and to vote accordingly. I know I am tired of seeing commercials on TV that have been approved by some politician running for office. But as annoying as these practices are, it is the way we elect our representatives to public office. The sad truth is that we don’t take seriously half of what we hear. I know I don’t. Most of us already know how we will vote. We’ve known it for months. And no amount of postings from our friends on Facebook, no amount of print, radio and TV commercials, and certainly no amount of signs on our neighbor’s lawn will sway our thinking one way or the other. We know what we intend to do, and most of us are wise enough to keep it to ourselves. It’s not something we like to discuss, and that’s perfectly fine. So I wonder how effective these strategies really are. The undecided, but leaning ever so slightly in this or that direction – that’s who they’re after. If the polls indicate a close vote, it’s likely just one or two percent who might actually determine the final results.

A lot is being said these days. Unfortunately, not a lot of listening is going on. We are inclined to close ourselves off to messages we don’t want to hear – especially when we come across name-calling, blatant exaggerations, obvious threats, scare tactics, arrogant and sanctimonious statements, arguments intended to intimidate. We know what and who we don’t want to hear. It seldom matters what they are actually saying.

Incidentally, there are themes in the scriptures we read that can be just as challenging. Many of us are convinced of what we know, and no amount of nagging and berating will change what we think. “Show no partiality,” we read from the letter of James. His specific concern is that even within the community of the church, in his time and yes, even in ours, we are not always consistent in our regard and respect for our neighbor, maybe because of the way they look, or the way they dress, or their financial or economic standing. The way we dress, the way we speak, the way we act, the way we present ourselves, all naturally affect how we come across. And we have unwritten expectations that easily affect our attitudes toward one another. So we are inclined to think these expectations are reasonable and self-evident, like arriving to church early and staying till the end of mass (like we would expect when attending other important functions), dressing appropriately and keeping unnecessary conversations to a minimum (reasonable? You think?), participating in the prayers and the singing (like we actually choose to be here), treating our hymnals with great care (since they belong to all of us instead of stuffing three books in a holder that can only take two), listening attentively when scripture is proclaimed (so that the Word of God might speak to us and transform us), focusing with reverence during the consecration (and keep from getting distracted or going to the bathroom). And when those around us seem oblivious, when they seem not to care, it might be difficult to mask our disappointment. It shows on our faces and our body language. I know I bite my tongue a lot and smile, hoping a better occasion will present itself, or some other brave soul will step in and gently say something instead. We don’t want to pass judgment. We want to call our neighbor’s attention to important things with great gentleness and charity. Perhaps if we are welcoming and patient, they will be more open to hear what we have to say. The problem is rarely the message. It’s how we get the message across.

One of the signs of the messianic age proclaimed in the Old Testament is the healing of all human brokenness, the restoration of sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the mute, life to the dead. And in the gospel we hear proclaimed today, Jesus fulfills some of Israel’s expectations of the promised redeemer. “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” How can that not be a sign from God? Unfortunately, that’s just one side of the story. We are also familiar with the manner Jesus was received by the Pharisees and teachers of the law, who were resistant to his message. While hearing is restored to the deaf, and speech to the mute, some who hear become deaf, and some who speak become mute. It is an interesting reversal that we don’t believe is supposed to accompany the coming of the messiah. It is interesting that those whose hearing and speech are restored either come to him willingly, or are brought by their friends. To our knowledge, no one is healed against their will. Not surprisingly, those who lose their speech and their hearing do so willingly as well. It is their deliberate and conscious response to who Jesus is and the gospel he proclaims.

We who come to church regularly have some familiarity with the themes of the gospel – Love the Lord your God with your whole heart, mind and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love one another as I have loved you. Forgive … not seven times, but seventy times seven times. Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, comfort the sorrowing, visit the sick and those in prison. Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me. Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you. Unless you forgive from your heart, your heavenly Father will not forgive you. Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you. Enter through the narrow gate. We can keep going.

But we become aware sometimes that not all who claim to follow Jesus Christ put his teaching into practice with the same enthusiasm and conviction as we would. Some of them sit and pray here with us. Some of them even proclaim and preach to us the Word of God. We are all on the way to being healed of our deafness. We are all on the way to having our speech restored. Only Jesus is capable of transforming and healing in an instant. We must not be discouraged if we do not get the same results as quickly. Instead, we continue to welcome, to invite, to draw others to the saving mysteries we proclaim and celebrate, knowing we ourselves are not the source of blessing, but rather unworthy servants and stewards. As Jesus in his great compassion reaches out to you and me to bring healing to our brokenness, so we must reach out to one another with compassion and charity and patience. It is Jesus alone who heals. It is Jesus alone who speaks to our hearts. And we are well aware that it is not just our neighbor, but ourselves, who are in need of transformation and healing.

I have a strong feeling no politician will ever choose a strategy of compassion and charity and patience. But it is the way of Jesus who heals and saves. Ephphata! Be opened! I am Fr. Rolo Castillo. And I approve this message.