23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Mass @ FMM Chapel
Picture: cc Oran Viriyincy
My dear sisters, have you ever been stuck in traffic before? Do you know what it feels like? It can be quite frustrating. I may be in a hurry to get to my destination, but the traffic refuses to move. Often this is caused by some kind of obstruction on the road. Perhaps there’s been an accident, or a breakdown, or roadworks, or a fallen tree… What can be done to improve the situation? Well, it’s quite simple, right? Remove the obstruction, and the traffic will flow again. Restoring flow. This is what salvation looks like in a traffic jam.
And not just in a traffic jam, but also in an illness. As you know, in traditional Chinese medicine, good health is believed to come from the smooth flow of qi, or the life-force, in the body. And sickness results when the qi is somehow obstructed. So that treatments like acupuncture aim to remove the obstruction. To restore the smooth flow of qi. As in a traffic jam, so too with bodily illness. Salvation has to do with flow.
The restoration of flow. This is also what what we find in our Mass readings today. In the first reading, in a time of danger and distress, the prophet tells the people to take courage. To not be afraid. For God is coming to save them. And notice what this looks like. Notice how the prophet describes salvation in terms of healing and flow. The opening of blind eyes. The unsealing of deaf ears. The strengthening of lame limbs. The loosening of mute tongues. A renewed flow of live-giving water in dry desert places.
This promise, made in the first reading, finds its fulfilment in the life and ministry of Jesus in the gospel. Jesus, whose name means God saves! Notice how the Lord’s healing of the deaf man who had an impediment in his speech is described in terms of the removal of obstruction, and the restoration of flow. Ephphatha, the Lord says. Be opened! And his ears were opened. The ligament of his tongue was loosened. And the power of hearing and of speech again begins to flow.
All of which is fine and good. Very impressive. But what has it got to do with us, we may ask, with you and with me? Especially those of us who are blessed to be neither blind nor lame. Neither deaf nor dumb. We who live in a land where we can drink freely the water that flows so readily at a convenient turn of a tap. Why should we pay attention to the restoration of flow? Is this really the kind of salvation we need?
The second reading helps us to answer this important question. For it reminds us that there are obstructions that go beyond the physical. The reading speaks against the tendency of making distinctions according to classes of people. To judge others based on how well or how shabbily they are dressed. Can we not say that those who discriminate against people in this way, actually have an impediment in their sight? An obstruction that prevents them from looking at people with the same loving gaze with which God looks at us all? What do such people need, my dear sisters, if not to allow God to restore the flow of God’s love and mercy and hospitality in their lives? So that the same love and mercy and hospitality can then flow out through them to others.
The restoration of the powerful flow of God’s love and mercy and hospitality. I can’t say for sure, my dear sisters. But perhaps this has also been your experience over this past week on retreat. A time when you have pondered and prayed over the rich treasure that is your charism as Franciscan Missionaries of Mary. For what is a charism if not a channel through which God’s grace is meant to flow. Benefitting not just ourselves, but the whole of creation.
And yet, isn’t it true that just as a road might get obstructed from time to time, so too, in our lives as religious, do we sometimes allow the flow of God’s grace to be impeded. By negligence or overwork, perhaps. By disappointment or disillusionment. By petty grievances or deeper resentments… Of course, outwardly, we may appear to remain true to our vows. And yet, inwardly, if we are honest with ourselves, don’t we sometimes feel as though we are stuck in a traffic jam? Yearning to be rescued? To be saved? To once again experience the free flow of God’s love and mercy and hospitality in our own lives?
Again, I can’t say for sure, my dear sisters. But my guess is that, over these days of your retreat, each of you has had some experience of salvation as the removal of obstruction, and the restoration of flow. And, in the days ahead, it is important that you remain in touch with this precious experience. For it is something that is much needed in our world today. The removal of the prejudices and resentments, the anxiety and self-absorption, that so often obstructs the flow of God’s love and mercy and hospitality among us. Preventing us from looking at and listening to, from working for and warmly welcoming others. Especially those who seem so very different from ourselves. The removal of these obstructions, and the restoration of flow. Isn’t this the kind of salvation that we need? In our families and in our communities? In our church and in our society today?
My dear sisters, in a world that so often feels as though it is stuck in a huge traffic jam, how are we being called to deepen and to share our experience of the flow of God’s love and mercy and hospitality today?