Currently SBS is running a documentary series ’What does Australia really think about… ageism, disability and obesity.’ As part of this SBS conducted a national survey on ageism and found that 51 per cent of people agree that age-based discrimination is common in Australia. In today’s Second Reading we hear St. James warning his community not to combine faith in the Lord with the making of distinctions between classes of people. He gives an example of a well-dressed man and a poor man dressed in shabby clothes to illustrate that our faith cannot be authentic if we treat one group of people better than the other.
Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus travelled right through the Decapolis region. This was an area steeped in Greek culture. They were non-Jewish people who were looked down upon. The reason was that they were not the Chosen People who had been privileged to hear the Word of God. Another layer to this story is that Jesus encountered a man who was deaf and who had an impediment in his speech. It was thought that people in this position were being punished by God.
Australian actress Noni Hazlehurst, the host of this particular SBS documentary, said everyone has a story to tell and that they deserved to be treated with dignity and respect. Such an attitude lay at the heart of Jesus’ ministry. He did not make a judgement on the man before him thinking about his place of origin or what were the reasons for his infirmities. All he saw was a human being needing his help, and acted accordingly.
The words Jesus spoke to the man, ‘be opened’ and the subsequent loosening of his tongue are worthy of our reflection. To clearly speak the Word of God we must closely listen to it first. The readings this week challenge us to ask the question, do we treat people with the mind and heart of Jesus? Or do we pass judgement on them based on age, bodily appearance, disability, race, place of origin etc? St James reminds us of when we start making distinctions between classes of people, we become judges, and not good ones at that.