First Reading Commentary
In this Reading, Isaiah is visualizing a very festive atmosphere. He is speaking of the future when God will free the Israelites from captivity. When we read this, however, we can also deduce that this prophecy was brought to its fullness by Christ as we will read in this weekend’s Gospel.
But how can we apply this message to our lives today? First of all we see the words, “Be strong, fear not!” Similar words can often be found in the New Testament, even from our Lord Jesus Christ. In modern times, Saint John Paul II had often used the phrase, “Do not be afraid.” Fear can be measured in accordance to the strength of our faith. If our faith is weak, more than likely we will have many things to fear. If our faith is strong, we might be a little apprehensive on occasion. If our faith is unshakeable, we will fear nothing.
“Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.” These words speak of healing. Whether emotional or physical, we have all been in need of healing. Again, if we have enough faith, we will look to our Lord for guidance.
The final two sentences speak of abundance; and this abundance is not about material possessions. Instead, this abundance awaits us in our heavenly homeland where we will no longer be afraid or be in need of healing. But even here and now, a life focused on Christ is an abundant life which is a stumbling block to the secular mind.
Saint James is specifically referring to the Christian assembly meetings of his day. We’re all familiar with the phrase, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Unfortunately, another phrase that tends to cloud our rationale is, “If it seems too good to be true, then it probably isn’t true.” And what seems too good to be true? God’s immeasurable love for all of us! Fortunately, this is indeed all too good and very true. God does not love the “man with gold rings and fine clothes” more than the “poor person in shabby clothes,” or vice-versa. Our human weakness coerces us into forming opinions based on appearances, forgetting that God loves everyone.
Even those among us whose faith is very strong cannot fully comprehend how much we are loved by God. Because of this, it is very difficult for us to love unconditionally. Even in our relationships where the strongest bonds of love exist, we still have fears, uncertainties and insecurities. So what do we do with all these shortcomings? Saint James instructs us “to be rich in faith.” God understands us better than we understand ourselves and perhaps at times we don’t give Him enough credit for how well He knows us. If we are “to be rich in faith,” then our shared calling is to conduct ourselves as children of God and be the Face of Jesus to all those we meet as well as the Hands and Feet of Jesus to those who need our help. And when we fall short of this calling, Jesus’ ocean of mercy awaits us; plus we already have the grace to be forgiving of one another.
“He put His Finger into the man's ears and, spitting, touched his tongue.” Jesus often used outward signs to perform His miracles. For Him, this is not necessary. It is more for our benefit as visualization helps our faith. The Church also uses outward signs in religious ceremonies such as oil and incense.
“He looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’-- that is, ‘Be opened!’” Jesus doesn’t groan because He is finding this miracle difficult to perform; it is more about Jesus’ visual expression of pity and sorrow which He feels for this man. The word “Ephphatha” is from an ancient Aramaic language.
“And immediately the man's ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly.” Jesus is successful in working another physical miracle. These physical miracles that we find in the Gospels should also speak to us spiritually. There are those in the world who are spiritually deaf and unable to speak because they have either never heard of Jesus or turn away when they are being evangelized; and therefore, they are unable to speak His praises. Of course, it goes without saying that we should never stop praying for individuals such as these. We all need to pray for others and we all need to be the subject of someone else’s prayers. No one gets through this life, this valley of tears, without failures and sufferings. After all, some of our canonized saints, before their conversion, led questionable lives. When we have a strong faith along with a personal relationship with our Lord, then, much like the witnesses in this Gospel, no one can stop us from sharing our faith.