Sunday, September 10, 2006

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Springs in the Desert

Reading: Isaiah 35:4-7; Psalm 146:7-10. R. v. 1; James 2:1-5; Mark 7:31-37

Water gushes in the desert, streams in the wasteland, the scorched earth becomes a lake, the parched land springs of water.

These words from our first reading bring me back once again to our Silk Road trip. I’m reminded in particular of the night spent in an Uighur household in the city of Turpan (or Tulufan). It was the first time I’d spent the night under a canopy of grape-vines dripping with ripe fruit. It was also the first time I’d slept next to a whole Uighur family – father, mother and two little children – after an enjoyable evening of feasting, singing and dancing.

By right these firsts should not have taken place. Why? Because Turpan is situated in the deadly dryness and lonely isolation of the Gobi. And yet, where there should have been only barrenness and desolation, there was instead fertility and companionship. Indeed, what we experienced in Turpan were streams in the wasteland, and in the parched land springs of water.

All this was made possible by two marvels: the marvel of human ingenuity and diligence by which the Karetz irrigation system was built to bring life-giving water from faraway glaciers into each household in Turpan; and the marvelous warmth of Uighur hospitality, so generously expressed in food and lodging, entertainment and fellowship.

Today our readings speak of deserts other than the Gobi. We encounter, in the gospel, the desolation of one who can neither hear nor speak. And even more terrible than physical deafness and dumbness is the suffering that results from prejudice. In the second reading, James speaks of the kind of social prejudice that would favor the wealthy and the well-dressed, the good-looking and the sweet-smelling. And we may just as easily think of other expressions of prejudice. Do we not, for example, prefer to hang-out with the in-crowd, the hip and the happening, the hot and the cool? And by doing so, are we not effectively muting the voices of those we so cruelly leave out, even as we render ourselves deaf to what they might be struggling to say?

Still, in the middle of these deserts, God wishes to bring streams and springs of living water. Jesus makes the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak. But more marvelous than the miracle of physical healing is the spiritual and social healing that God can bring about when we allow God’s spirit to work in and through us: the Spirit of compassion that empathizes with the lonely, the Spirit of charity that feeds the hungry and clothes the naked, the Spirit of justice that gives a hearing to the voiceless.

What desert does God wish to water through us this day?

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