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Ephphatha

The 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today’s Gospel ends with quite a curiosity. You have this man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, someone whose both his hearing and his speaking is impaired. Jesus heals him, no surprise there, but then he tells them not to tell anyone. Them. Not the man himself, but the crowd of people who brought the man to Jesus. It doesn’t say what the man did, but we know the crowd at least completely ignored Jesus’ command and spread word about him anyway. So there’s two questions here: Why would Jesus not want what happened to be told and why would the crowd ignore Jesus? Why should the crowd not speak, and why would the crowd not hear?

So the first question: why should the crowd not speak about what took place? This is actually a theme that repeats throughout the Gospel of Mark. As Jesus goes about preaching and healing, he frequently told people in Mark’s account of the Gospel not to talk about him. Scripture scholars can give you all sorts of very solid explanations and reflections based on the Gospel as a whole, but I would like to look at just the readings for today. The first reading says that when the Lord comes with vindication, that the ears of the deaf be cleared, the tongue of the mute will sing, streams will burst forth in the desert, and the burning sands will become pools. Jesus healing a deaf and mute man was more than just the healing a deaf and mute man. It was a sign, it was a prophetic action proclaiming that the day of the Lord and the coming of the kingdom was at hand. Why would Jesus not want that known? Because it is a sign about the present, not future… a sign about something immediate, not a sign about something hopeful… so it’s not fair for others to only, simply, merely hear about the healing of a blind and deaf man and receive nothing more. It’s as if he’s were to say, “It’s not enough for people to hear a story about me, they must actually encounter me and know me, they must know my presence standing before them.” If the crowd is going to speak about Jesus with that level of faith and power that their very words convey his presence, well then they too need to have “ephphatha” spoken over them. Their own lips need to be healed and that hasn’t happened yet.

Next question: why would the crowd ignore the instruction of Jesus and speak about him anyway? Because again, the word “ephphatha” had not been spoken over the crowd. Their ears were not opened to hear. When your ears are opened you don’t just hear the command of the Jesus and then debate whether or not to follow it… you hear the command and your heart is bursting with joy to follow it; the possibility of ignoring it is almost painful just to consider. But that wasn’t clearly wasn’t the crowd. They were still so broken that the more Jesus told them not to speak the more they proclaimed it! They physically heard but they couldn’t hear in their hearts.

This is how significant the concept of “ephphatha” is. Until Christ is active with His grace and opens your ears and your mouths you can’t effectively hear His Word in your heart or speak his praises with your lips.

But I wonder if you know…

At your baptism, if you were baptized as a little infant right afterwards the priest or deacon anointed you with Chrism and gave you a white baptismal garment and your baptismal candle … and then… he touched your ears and your mouth and said: “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.” That is the ephphatha rite, the prayer that your ears and mouths may be opened to hear and to proclaim the Word that is Christ. And with those who get baptized as an adult we can do something similar the morning of Holy Saturday.

You are not the crowd, you are the man who has been healed. You are the ones with hearts attentive to the word of God. You are the ones who can and who must speak of him. If you have never given thanks for your baptism and reflected on what it means, do so today. Pray that you are open to the grace of ephphatha, that what the priest said to you in ritual may be Christ healing you in reality.


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