23rd Sunday of Ordinary Times

My dog has me well trained. Every afternoon Orla has me take her out for a tennis ball chasing session. We usually do them behind the Rectory on the fifth fairway of the golf course. There is a steep dip in the fairway, so I throw the ball down the hill, and she brings it back up. Having her run up the incline tires her out a little quicker.

Earlier this summer, we had finished our session when a golf cart with a couple in it drove up to the tee. The woman got out, and we exchanged greetings. She asked me, “Are you Fr. Sullivan?” I told her, “Yes.” She said, “We watch your Livestream all the time.” She explained they were summer residents from Connecticut and had begun watching the Livestream of our Sunday Masses at the beginning of the pandemic. She said, “Our parish wasn’t doing anything like that, and we’re a big parish. You’ve done a great job keeping your parish together, Father.” I thanked her for her compliment. I wasn’t halfway to the side door of the Rectory through before a little voice in my head started asking, “Is there more you could be doing? Are you doing enough?”

That is a common reaction we all have at times. It always seems we begin believing we could be doing more and doing it better. It happens in our relationships. If we are married, we wonder if we are cutting corners in that relationship. Are we doing everything we can to show our love? Is our spouse growing bored and distracted? We wonder if when the children leave will our connection be strong enough. Will we find it was the children who kept us connected? We have the same concerns about our friendships. Will they be strong enough to last when we move on to another job, neighborhood, or school?

If we are parents or grandparents, we question whether we are doing enough for our children. Are we paying enough attention to them? We wonder if we could be more involved in their activities and education. We realize they need our attention as they grow and develop. Are we involved enough in their lives to let them grow with good values?

We question if we are doing enough for our well-being. Are we eating right, getting enough exercise, are we sleeping enough? We ask ourselves if our minds are being kept sharp enough? Are we doing enough to keep a positive outlook on life?

We question our financial prospects. We wonder if we will have enough money to retire the way we would like. Will I be able to have enough for my children’s education? The workday comes to a close on our job, but we haven’t completed all we need to do, and we wonder if we have been productive enough.

Even in our faith life, we can wonder if we are doing enough. Are we prayerful enough? Are we as devout to the sacraments as we should be? Even if we aren’t what we believe to be that religious, we wonder if we are doing enough to be a good person. We have so many questions about whether we are doing enough in so many aspects of our lives.

Today our gospel reading again comes from the Gospel of Mark. Mark is one of the four versions of Jesus’ life story recorded in the Bible. Bible scholars believe it to be the oldest and it is the shortest account of Jesus’ ministry. If you have never read a gospel all the way through, Mark’s Gospel is a good one to read. Reading only a few verses every day, and in just a week or so, you will complete it.

Jesus was constantly on the move during his ministry. He was continually going from town to town and village to village. Today we heard of some of his travels. Mark tells us Jesus took a circuitous route through a primarily pagan territory to get from Tyre to the shores of the Sea of Galilee. When traveling, Jews of Jesus’ day usually made a deliberate effort to avoid lands where non-Jews lived. By telling of Jesus’ travels in the non-Jewish territory, Mark is showing Jesus reached out to both Jews and non-Jews in his ministry. Jesus meant his preaching to be heard by all people.

When we read Mark’s gospel, we learn this was Jesus’ second journey through the area. On a previous trip to the Decapolis, Jesus had cured the Gerasene Demonic. He had sent the evil spirits possessing that man into a herd of swine who drown themselves in the sea. In response, the people had urged Jesus to leave their area. Although Jesus cautioned the man not to tell others of his cure, the man went away proclaiming it.

The Gerasene Demonic’s cure might be the reason the people receive Jesus well on this second visit. This time they willingly bring a deaf man with garbled speech to Jesus for healing. While Mark is a short gospel, he often gives greater detail to his accounts of Jesus’ actions. Here he provides a step-by-step account of how Jesus went about this healing.

Jesus took the deaf man off by himself. He puts his fingers into the man’s ears, touches his tongue with spittle, looks to heaven as he groans, and commands the man’s ears to be opened. In doing all this, Jesus shows he considers the man’s particular needs and attends to them. Jesus is concerned about the deaf man. He wants the man to be whole and able to hear of God’s love for him.

Often we can be deaf to God’s voice too. We are unable to hear rightly regarding our measuring up to God’s expectations. We perceive God as a God we need to work to try to please. We don’t hear the truth that God is on our side.

In today’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah we heard:

Say to those whose hearts are frightened:

Be strong, fear not!

Here is your God,

He comes with vindication; with divine recompense

He comes to save you.

God is on our side. God wants to deliver us from the oppression of constantly thinking we have to measure up. God doesn’t want us to struggle with the fear of not doing enough. God wants us to recognize if we are trying to do our best. If we are working to strengthen our relationship with God and centering our lives on God’s love. If we love our neighbor as ourselves. We are doing enough.

Jesus wishes to approach all of us in a personal way. Jesus wants a relationship with each of us. That can make some people uncomfortable. They don’t want to believe in a personal God. They would rather God stay up in heaven and not show concern for them. They would instead like to think of God as distant and detached from them. They want a God they call upon only when they need God.

God loves us for who we are. God takes us where we are. God won’t force himself on anyone but wants us to know of God’s love for us and that God will respond to us in our need. God never writes us off but is ready to respond when we are prepared to respond to God’s love. God loves us too much to let us stay at arm’s length.

The people of the Decapolis responded to Jesus because they twice witnessed Jesus heal wholly and instantaneously. They saw both the Gerasene Demonic and the deaf man made whole. They noticed how contact with Jesus transformed the men. After encountering Jesus, these men became new people. They were whole again.

Jesus wants to communicate with us too. Jesus calls to us to listen for his voice. Too often, though, we allow the little voice that tries to convince us we aren’t doing enough. We allow it to drown out Jesus’ voice. We become convinced we aren’t doing enough.

Jesus wants to cure us of everything that prevents us from hearing his voice. He wants us to proclaim to others with ungarbled speech how our encounter with Jesus’ healing power has made us whole too. Jesus wants us to know he can heal our hearts and lead us to a place of peace with our world. Jesus wants us to recognize we have done enough. We can let go and let God provide for our needs. God’s grace will fill any voids left in our lives.

This week settle yourself for a few minutes and ask what segment of your life you have to struggle with hearing you have done enough and need to turn it over to God. Is it your relationships, health concerns, finances, or faith? Entrust it to God. Let God’s grace flow into it and help you hear how God wants you to be made whole.