[23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B, Sept 6, 2015 / Isa 35:4-7a / Ps 146:6c-7, 8-9a, 9b-10 / Jas 2:1-5 / Mark 7:31-37]
Ephthatha! Be opened!
In the Gospel today Jesus meets a man who is deaf and dumb (Mark 7:31-37). The two ailments often go together as a person who cannot hear will have difficulty to speak. Jesus takes the man away from the crowd, touches his ears and his mouth, sighs and says “Ephphatha!” that is, “Be opened!” How delicate is Jesus in healing this man! He takes him away from the crowd in the same way that a good doctor will not examine his patient in public but rather respects the dignity of the person and does so in private.
Jesus sighs because he shares in the suffering of man. His words are powerful: “Be opened” and the man starts to hear and speak. His tongue was loosened.
There are many congregations today dedicated to the deaf and dumb. One such community is “The Salesian Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.” One day their founder Fr. Philip Smaldone was in a church and witnessed a young child crying. His mother was unable to console him because he was deaf. St Philip Smaldone heard those cries and sighed that no one was dedicating to caring for deaf and dumb children. He founded the Salesian congregation which now dedicates itself to the care of deaf and dumb children all around the world and their motto is “Ephphatha! Be opened!”
Our senses are a gift from God. How do we use them? Our eyes are to see God’s presence in the world. Many times we have to admit our blindness. There was a man who called his neighbor a pig because they were arguing over a fence. His neighbor responded by calling him Jesus. The man wondered why he was calling the neighbor a pig yet his neighbor was calling him Jesus. The neighbor explained, “When I look at you I see Jesus because I have the eyes of Jesus. When you look at me you see a pig because you have the eyes of a pig.”
How are our eyes? St James invites us in his letter to not be taken by appearances, in treating the rich well and the poor with disdain (James 2:1-5). When we look at others, rich and poor alike, we must strive to see Jesus in the other. Remember that man looks at appearances but God looks at the heart. There is a Spanish song that asks not just for a new world but for new eyes to see others differently and to see the renewal God is already working.
How much our ears need to listen to Good News. Being bombarded by bad news we become mute too because we have nothing good to share with others. Like the man in the gospel it needs the intervention of Christ, the Good Doctor, to heal us. In our baptism the priest touches our ears and our mouth and says “Ephphatha, be opened.” Why, if already the baby can hear and is definitely not mute judging by its squeals when the cold water is poured on its head? Surely it is to open its spiritual senses. Many times Jesus said to listen, if you have ears. Of course all the listeners had ears but did they really hear the message or did it fall on deaf ears?
When St Augustine recounted his conversion he wrote, “You called, and cried aloud, and forced open my deafness. You gleamed and shone, and chased away my blindness. You exhaled odors, and I drew in my breath and do pant after You. I tasted, and do hunger and thirst. You touched me, and I burned for Your peace.” (Augustine’s Confessions, Book X, Ch. XXVII). You can identify the five senses in this experience—hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch.
But Our spiritual senses need to be opened by Jesus. Let us ask for the grace to be open to Christ, to be touched by him and his Word. To taste and see that the Lord is good, and that our lives can emanate, as St Paul describes, the aroma of Christ. And perhaps we can examine our speech, and pray that it can be full of grace and truth—words that can encourage and build the other up.
Many times we really are dumb and are afraid to share about God or heavenly things. Even the eloquent Pope, Gregory the Great, humbly admitted that at times he found himself engaged in gossip and useless chatter that before never interested him.
What will you talk about this day? Lord, open my heart, open my ears to listen to your word. And may my mouth speak of what my heart is full of, your Word and your love.