Homilies for September 2021

For September 5, September 12, September 19, and September 26

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 5, 2021

Readings: Is. 35:4–7a • Ps.146:6–7, 8–9, 9–10 • Jas. 2:1–5 • Mk 7:31–37    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/090521.cfm

In the Caribbean, where I am from, it is pretty standard for one to greet a gathering with this call and response:

God is Good: All the time

All the time: God is Good

Our texts this weekend certainly speak of the goodness of God. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah speaks powerful words to frightened people. And aren’t we all frightened as we live through these days of the pandemic, not knowing what tomorrow brings? To us, the prophet reminds us of God’s goodness. The goodness of God who comes to save us. A God who sees our pain and sufferings and promises that newness will come forth from this pandemic.

The second reading from the letter of St. James also speaks of God’s goodness by reminding us that God shows no partiality. While we may judge each other by externals or by how we may benefit from them, our God judges by different standards. James reminds us that the poor, marginalized, and abandoned people are often closest to God.

In the Gospel, we see God’s goodness in action, as a man who is deaf and has a speech impediment is brought to Jesus for healing. Taking him away from the crowd, in a most intimate and caring moment, Jesus, using touch, spit, a groan, and a prayer, speaks powerful life-changing words to the deaf man — Ephphatha, that is, “be opened!” And immediately, the man was healed and spoke plainly. Disobeying Jesus’s command of keeping quiet, the man and the people went about proclaiming the good news, that Jesus does all things well, he makes the deaf hear and the mute speak. God indeed is good.

Jesus’s powerful and life-giving words to the deaf man with the speech impediment restore him to the community. The man who could not communicate his thoughts and feelings can now participate fully in the life of the community. From loneliness and isolation, he is now made whole. One can only imagine the great joy he feels.

Be Opened. These two words are the challenge for this week. The unnamed deaf man represents all of us as we are often deaf to the voice of God and cannot speak plainly the truths of his message. Therefore, the Gospel asks of us, in what ways do we need to be opened by God through Jesus? One obvious clue comes from Jesus’s location. We meet him in the district of the Decapolis, not in Jewish territory but pagan territory performing this miracle. Jesus crosses boundaries to proclaim the Good News that God cares for all peoples. What boundaries do we need to cross to go forth and proclaim the Good News of Christ? Is it the boundaries of religion, race, neighborhood, education, and gender?

Be Opened. Can we be open to beauty, goodness, and truth in a society divided by race and politics?

Be Opened. To know that we can learn from each other, especially people who are different from us.

Be Opened. To the complications of life and the reality that we can’t always have easy answers.

Be Opened to the voice of God communicating with us from places we least expect.

Be Opened to experiences and truths of others that seem foreign to you.

Be Opened to the voice of God calling you to people and places that make you uncomfortable.

Be Opened to ultimately receiving love and graces from God.

Be Opened.

Being Open can be challenging as it takes us out of our comfort zone. However, to grow and mature in the spiritual life, we must be open to the voice and power of God, who continually calls us forth to our best self.

The deaf man in today’s gospel received a great gift from Jesus: the ability to hear and to speak plainly. In the sacrament of Baptism, the priest touched our ears and mouth and spoke the words: May the Lord Jesus who made the deaf to hear and the mute to speak grant that you may soon receive his word with your ears and profess that faith with your lips to the glory and praise of God the Father. 

May we go forth, opened by the power of Christ to proclaim the Good News, for

God is Good: All the time and

All the time: God is good.

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 12, 2021

Readings: Is. 50:5–9a • Ps. 116:1–2, 3–4, 5–6, 8–9 • Jas. 2:14–18 • Mk. 8:27–35    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/091221.cfm

A Pig and a Chicken are walking down the road.

The Chicken says: “Hey Pig, I was thinking we should open a restaurant!”

Pig replies: “Hmm, maybe, what would we call it?”

The Chicken responds: “How about ‘ham-n-eggs’?”

The Pig thinks for a moment and says: “No thanks. I’d be committed, but you’d only be involved.”

This simple story encapsulates the challenge of being a disciple of Jesus — will I be totally committed, or will I be superficially involved?

We meet Jesus and his disciples on a journey to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Who do people say that I am? Jesus asked. Jesus has been healing, casting out demons, teaching and preaching, and people have been talking. In other words, Jesus is saying, what’s the word on the streets about me? The disciples give Jesus answers to what they have heard from others — John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets. Having listened to what others are saying about him, he turns to his disciples and asks, But who do you say that I am? One can sense Jesus looking in the eyes of his disciples and saying, I don’t care what others think about me; you are my closest friends, you have been with me all this time; who am I to you?

It is Peter who answers the question on behalf of the disciples. You are the Christ. Jesus does not say whether Peter is correct but instead tells them not to repeat this to anyone.

“Who do you say that I am?” is a central question of our faith, and one which we need to reflect upon and ponder throughout our lives. If Jesus is the Christ for us, what does this mean in how we live our lives? Jesus teaches the disciples that the Son of Man must suffer greatly, experience rejection and death.

Peter’s understanding of Christ did not involve these. Peter expects the Messiah to be one who will be honored and served, so he pulled Jesus aside to rebuke him. Peter, like us, wants to save those whom we love from suffering.

However, Jesus knows himself and knows his mission. Jesus, in turn, rebukes Peter telling him to get behind him. Just as Jesus rejected the devil’s temptation in the desert, Jesus rebukes Peter’s challenge to his identity. Jesus is reminding Peter that disciples must be followers of Jesus along the way. Peter is challenged in his understanding of Jesus’s mission. Peter is thinking as man and not God. To view Jesus through divine lens and not human lens becomes crucial for all of us disciples.

Who do you say that I am? If we truly believe that Jesus is the Christ, then we must be prepared to go to the Cross, and what does that look like?

It is speaking out for the unborn, the voiceless and the marginalized when everyone else is fearful of doing so.

It is speaking out against the sin of racism and oppression at the expense of losing friends.

It is standing up for Gospel values while being ridiculed.

It is what the prophet Isaiah shows in our First Reading — I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard, my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.

It is ultimately the recognition that being a disciple of Christ involves dying to self but finding new life in Christ.

On this journey of faith, may we, like Peter, respond that Jesus is the Christ and live our lives totally committed to following Christ as his disciple.

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 19, 2021

Readings: Wis 2:12, 17–20 • Ps 54:3–4, 5, 6 and 8 • Jas. 3:16–4:3 • Mk. 9:30–37    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/091921.cfm

I came across the following story of the balloon stomp game some time ago, which, I believe, speaks to the heart of our Gospel:

Robert Roberts writes about a fourth-grade class in which the teacher introduced a game called “balloon stomp.” A balloon was tied to every child’s leg, and the object of the game was to pop everyone else’s balloon while protecting one’s own. The last person with an intact balloon would win. . . .

Roberts goes on to write that a second class was introduced to the same game. Only this time, it was a class of mentally disabled children. They were given the same explanation as the first class, and the signal to begin was given. But the game proceeded very differently. . . . Instead of fighting each other, they began helping each other pop balloons. One little girl knelt down and held her balloon carefully in place, like a holder for a field goal kicker. A little boy stomped it flat. Then he knelt down and held his balloon for her. It went on like this for several minutes until all the balloons were vanquished, and everybody cheered. Everybody won. Who got the game right, and who got the game wrong?1

Who got the game right and who got the game wrong depends on how one views success. This story forces us to reexamine how we view life in our very competitive world of winners and losers. This re-examination of values and worldview is what Jesus challenges his disciples with once inside the house. Jesus had only just taught his disciples about his upcoming fate of suffering and death, and in no time, we find them arguing about who is the greatest, totally missing the point of Jesus’s teachings.

Knowing the disciples’ hearts and thoughts, Jesus places a child in their midst and demonstrates what greatness in the kingdom is all about. The use of a child who, in Jesus’s time, has no power, status, honor, or value is to clearly show the disciples what Jesus’s mission is all about and hence the mission of his followers. Commenting on this pericope, Fr. Brendan Byrne writes, “For someone outside the family to welcome a child would be to turn prevailing values and social mores upside down; it would require putting aside all one’s ideas of self-importance and adult status to simply meet the child as an equal, as ‘child’ to child. That, says Jesus, is what the disciples must ‘practice.’”2

Can we as people of faith recognize that greatness in the eyes of Jesus is not about how educated we are, how talented we are, what family or countries we come from, but rather is all about service? We are challenged to open our eyes to see the children in our midst, the people most vulnerable in society: the migrants, the immigrants, the poor and homeless, the voiceless and the marginalized.

Jesus tells us that to receive such children is to receive Christ himself and the Father. As we live these days, may we resist the temptation of greatness as defined by the world, and like the second set of children in the balloon stomp game, may we reach out to each other so that we can all be great together.

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 26, 2021

Readings: Nm 11:25–29 • Ps 19:8, 10, 12–13, 14 • Jas 5:1–6 • Mk. 9:38–43, 45, 47–48       bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/092621.cfm

Checking in for a flight some time ago, I received my boarding pass with the words Pre-Check printed. I have no idea why this happened, but I was extremely thankful to make my way through the shorter security line and not have to remove most of my outer clothing. I remember telling this to my friend, who paid for pre-check privileges, and he was not amused. He kept reminding me that I received the benefits without being a member. “Membership has its privileges” was the old slogan of American Express. The first reading and the Gospel challenge the mentality that privileges are reserved for those with membership.

In the first reading from the book of Numbers, we encounter two men, Eldad and Medad, who received the gift of the spirit and began prophesying even though they were outside of the camp where the elders had gathered. Annoyed and somewhat jealous that these two elders were prophesying, Joshua runs to Moses to stop them. Joshua, we’re reminded, has been Moses’s aide since his youth, feels especially entitled, and wants to control the spirit and who gets to prophesy. Seeing the bigger picture and not hoarding the spirit, Moses challenges Joshua not to control what is good and a blessing. Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! exclaimed Moses, reminding Joshua that God’s spirit is not reserved solely to membership.

Turning to the Gospel, it is now John who displays a similar attitude to Joshua. John goes to Jesus and says, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he does not follow us.” John is jealous and angry that someone outside of the membership is having the privilege of driving out demons. The irony here is that just a few verses before, John and the disciples were unable to drive out a demon from a young boy (Mk 9:14ff). Jesus chastises John and teaches him that whoever is not against us is for us, affirming again the lesson that the work of God is not limited to one’s membership status.

Our texts challenge us, as people of faith, to pay attention to the important things. Both Joshua and John missed the bigger picture, which is about God’s mission in the world. Jesus has no problems with good works being done in his name, nor is he concerned about who does it. Where John is preoccupied with the privileges associated with membership, Jesus is reminding them that following him is all about service.

Jesus’s teaching that “whoever is not against us is for us” is particularly apt for today’s world. It is a call to unity and a call for tolerance among God’s people. When we are tempted to think that we have a corner on Jesus’s name and power, the text challenges us to broaden our horizons. Whenever we witness works of love, forgiveness, charity, justice, healing, liberation, peacebuilding, mercy, and the like — regardless of where they come from — they are works of Christ.

We do not know why the man was driving out a demon, but we know that driving out demons is a good thing. The man had the good sense to know that there is power in the name of Jesus, and this power should always be used to advance the kingdom of God. May we, as followers of Christ, never be obstacles to the work of God in the world.

  1. Nicole Rodrigues. Taken from: https://vconnect.piramal.com/ValuesSpring3MVC/viewValue.do?id=1005&status=A&reqFor=display.
  2. Brendan Byrne, A Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel, (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2008), 152.
Fr. Peter D. Hill About Fr. Peter D. Hill

Fr. Peter D. Hill, C.Ss.R. is a Redemptorist from the Caribbean island of Dominica. He is currently the Co-Director of Formation at the North American Redemptorist Formation Residence in San Antonio, Texas. Fr. Peter holds a D.Min in preaching from the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis. MO.