The readings for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time can be found here.
This weekend's Liturgy of the Word is especially poignant to those who feel forsaken or marginalized, especially those with special needs.
The first reading, from the book of Isaiah, encourages us to "Be strong!" because the Lord is coming to save us. But Isaiah doesn't tell us that the salvation he writes of is only spiritual; he adds that God will open the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf; He will give the lame the ability to dance and the mute a voice. Historically (and even in modern times), those will ailments were seen as cursed by God or, alternately, they were physically bearing the sins of their parents and families. Is this passage from Isaiah a foreshadowing of Christ's message in the New Testament that the disabled are not shunned from God, but rather bearing a greater testimony?
The responsorial of "Praise the Lord, my soul," once again reminds us to praise God in all things, but the verses echo the first reading. God will lift up the lowly and save the broken. This a repeated theme throughout the book of Psalms. In what ways are we lowly and broken? Do we praise God through the pain, trusting that He will raise us up and save us?
In the second reading, James warns us to not make "distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs". In this passage, we are reminded that we shouldn't laud those who come to worship in expensive, beautiful clothing while relegating the poor and humble to our feet or the backs of our churches. Do you do this personally? Do you judge the person approaching the Body and Blood of Christ in their torn jeans and dirty shirt, while secretly thinking highly of the person doing the same in their designer dress or suit? Before God, we are all naked. Why do you think we choose to see distinction? Why do you think we choose to judge others for something as simple as clothing?
In the Gospel, a reading from Mark, Jesus cures a deaf man who speaks poorly. "Immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly." Who among us with a parent of a special needs child doesn't immediately feel our heart leap into our throat at this passage? With a simple word, Jesus takes away the physical burden that this man has endured, allowing him to finally participate in community life. He can hear the sounds around him; he can lift his voice in song. He can communicate and be understood. For those of us struggling with children who are different (or struggling through life with their own disabilities), this reading is a ray of hope. But it also beckons the question "Why my child? Why us? When will there be healing, if ever?"
Questions to consider from the Gospel: Do you believe that Jesus still heals the way that the stories from the Gospel present: why or why not? How do you face illness knowing that healing may not come? How do you raise and teach those with special needs in your life? How do you learn from them?