23 Ordinary B – September 9, 2012 – The Potent Words of Jesus
Abracadabra! Alakazam! Alohomora! How often have we heard or seen words used to suggest that something powerful, magical and seemingly impossible was happening? Abracadabra is taken from ancient symbols once believed to hold real power. Alohomora, a combination of Hawaiian and Latin words, was used in the Harry Potter series to unlock doors and open windows.
Many religions use magical, mystical language in their rituals to help its members connect to something mysterious and miraculous. “This is my body” and “this is my blood” are the sacred words we use to express a belief in something that defies explanation. According to John Pilch ancient cultures believed that words actually contained power. If you translated the word it would lose that power.
Today’s gospel retains the original potent word Ephphata — the word Jesus used to heal a man who could not hear. We use similar words and actions in our initiation rites to open symbolically the ears of an adult to hear the word of God.
The Greeks living at that time would have understood this gospel story as proof that Jesus was a wonder worker. The Palestinians of that era interpreted the passage as the fulfillment of the Isaiah story heard this morning about God redeeming the displaced Israelites. The evangelist Mark wrote the story to point out that the disciples were not tuned in to what or why Jesus was doing what he did — that they should treat every person, rich or poor, sick or healthy, powerful or vulnerable with loving care.
What magic words can be used today to heal a broken world, a divided country, a dysfunctional household? The letter from James was written for a community made up of both wealthy and poor people. However, the rich Christians at the time had no political power to make any social changes on behalf of people who were poor. Still James reminded his listeners of the obligation to care for people who are struggling to get by.
What words do pastoral leaders today offer us? In his first social encyclical “Charity in Truth” Pope Benedict 16 reaffirmed that our participation in the political process is guided by a concern for the common good. He said, “Justice is inseparable from charity” and “every Christian is called to practice this charity.” John Paul II once said, “take special care of the weakest sectors of society.”
In their Labor Day statement the US Bishops wrote, “Millions of Americans suffer from unemployment, underemployment or are living in poverty as their basic needs too often go unmet. This represents a serious economic and moral failure for our nation.”
The Republican and Democratic conventions are over. The platforms of the two parties are considerably different. Many carefully chosen words were used to persuade us to choose one platform, one candidate, over another. (And, how is it that the swing states are called “battleground states?” Is the election process really a war?)
Our decisions as citizens, as Christians, as Catholics, are not to be guided by the clever and often deceitful language used in political advertisements. On the other hand, our votes can be framed by the powerful healing words of Jesus the Anointed One.
Magical words have been used since ancient times to fool us but also to stimulate our imaginations and actions. When our imaginations are energized we can reach creatively for what seems impossible. What words will we use in the coming weeks as we ponder our role in government? How will we use our voices to vote for the common good?
1 John J. Pilch. The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle B (Collegevill: The Liturgical Press) 1996, 133-135
2 Reginald H. Fuller Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today. (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press. 1984 Revised Edition), 345-346
3 Benedict 16. Caritas in Veritate, June 29, 2009, 6,7