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Spirituality of the Readings
23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Year B
September 5, 2021
John Foley, SJ

He Began to Teach Them

­Jesus cures a deaf mute in this Sunday’s reading and arouses astonishment in the crowd. (Gospel)

Christians tend to think that the healing of people was the main goal in Jesus’ life. But after this Sunday there are only four more healings by Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. Why? Earlier (in the first seven chapters) he had worked so many cures that people were mobbing him.

God gives us companionship within each instant of our life.

And that was the trouble. He was in danger of becoming famous as a mere wonder-worker. People were besieging him at every stop, thinking that he would solve all their problems—if only he gave their health back, or if only he took away their poverty and death, or if only—well, you name it. He was in danger of receiving Andy Warhol’s illustrious “fifteen minutes of fame,” and only that.

But would fame really reveal God’s love for the world and its peoples? Jesus thought not. In Mark Jesus stopped the miracles and began a new phase of his mission.

He turned his face toward Jerusalem. And the cross.

This change of direction will come next week. Suddenly and without warning Jesus will say to the disciples, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise” (Mk 9:31). What more shocking statement could this supposedly invincible leader and healer make to them?

How could death go together with healing?

A man and wife told me of the death of their tiny son, and how they had prayed so hard for his healing. Their prayers were not answered, they said. Yet somehow they discovered that God had been present throughout the dying, that God had been immersed in their son’s life and death, and that this intimate presence was enough, more than enough. Their sorrow was immersed in love, and their son was safe in God’s arms.

The point? A human person is made to be loved by God, not merely to have good health, riches or reputation. Real life consists of love exchanged with God and with others, not just in seeming to be a leader or a success. There is a greater good than these, a relationship with the divine being, a seeking of the one who is already close. Such an intimate relationship sends us out to help give God’s love to the world. Miracle cures help for a while, but pretty soon the suffering world has to be faced in its full suffering self.

As a result, Jesus moves toward the events that will show God’s solidarity with us in our anguish, our rejections, and in that famous event which each and every one of us will face sooner or later: death. Beyond cures, which are wonderful yet partial, God gives us companionship within each instant of our life.

This Sunday at Mass, let us ask ourselves whether the intimate presence of God is part of what we desire in our own lives. Do we know that Christ is deeply involved with us? Do we let his love flow into us and through us to others, or must it just fight its way through?

Let’s pray to hear, as the deaf man finally could.

John Foley, SJ

Father Foley can be reached at:
Fr. John Foley, SJ

Fr. John Foley, SJ, is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.

Art by Martin Erspamer, OSB
from Religious Clip Art for the Liturgical Year (A, B, and C). This art may be reproduced only by parishes who purchase the collection in book or CD-ROM form. For more information go