Jesus’ mission in one word

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 35:4 - 7A

Thus says the LORD: 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. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing. Streams will burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe. The burning sands will become pools, and the thirsty ground, springs of water.

James 2:1 - 5

My brothers and sisters, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. For if a man with gold rings and fine clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Sit here, please, ” while you say to the poor one, “Stand there, ” or “Sit at my feet, ” have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him?

Mark 7:31 - 37

Again Jesus left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis. And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!”— that is, “Be opened!” — And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly. He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it. They were exceedingly astonished and they said, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

We live in a very noisy world. Our lives are filled with many words; many of which are empty and useless. Obviously our world is much different to that of the deaf man in today’s Gospel reading. However, in the midst of all these noises and words, our situation is in fact very similar to him, that is, we, too, are often alienated from one another and even more so, from God. Could it be that the noise and din of so many words have caused us to turn a deaf ear to the word of God just as Jesus says, “Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear?” (Mk 8:18). Pope Benedict XVI, in his Angelus (September 9, 2012), summarizes Jesus’ ministry in one word – “Ephphatha”. It is not a magic word but simply means, “be opened” in Aramaic. Though simple, this little word from Jesus carries with it a much deeper meaning.

Truly that the deaf and mute man has been closed and isolated from others but by Jesus’ intervention, he is able to open himself to the world and the world to him, “an openness that, starting from the organs of hearing and speech, involved all his person and his life” (Ibid). However, a person’s closure is not only limited to his/her disabled physical senses. Spiritual deafness is also a disability. When we do not hear or refuse to hear God’s words, we are in a communication closure, too. And if we are spiritually deaf, we are spiritually mute as well since the ability of hearing and speaking goes together. When one shuts oneself from hearing God’s words, one has difficulty to speak spiritual truths. In the Angelus, Pope Benedict XVI refers these spiritual defects as “an inner closure that affects the person’s inmost self, which the Bible calls ‘the heart’ ”.

Throughout Scriptures, we come across these spiritual defects of the heart and ear in different names: stiffnecked, uncircumsized, hardened, stubborn, stony or dull (rf Ex 32:9, Acts 7:51, Ps 95:8-9, 81:11-13, Zech 7:11-12, Is 6:10, Jer 11:8, Eze 36:26, Mt 13:15). Thus Pope Benedict XVI says, “that is why I said that this little word, ‘Ephphatha’ – ‘Be opened,’ sums up Christ’s entire mission. He became man so that man, made inwardly deaf and dumb by sin, would become able to hear the voice of God, the voice of love speaking to his heart, and learn to speak in the language of love, to communicate with God and with others” (Ibid).

This miracle of the healing of the deaf-mute, recounted only in Mark’s Gospel, is tactfully written with reference to Isaiah 35 as backdrop. Isaiah 35 is a glorious promise of what will take place when the Messiah comes, “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be cleared. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb will sing” (Is 35:5-6). Undeniably, this miracle is the fulfillment of part of that promise, for two of the elements in Isaiah’s vision are now being realized – “He has done everything well! He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak!” (Mk 7:37). Jesus is the promised Messiah who, not only ‘opens up’ the handicapped man, but also opens up heaven, bringing healing and salvation to all people. “It is this that Jesus came to ‘open,’ to liberate, so as to enable us to live to the full our relationship with God and with others” (Ibid).

Yes, we live in a very noisy world. Our ears could be habitually blocked from hearing God’s words and our tongues customarily stiffened to speak God’s truths. Let us pray then that Jesus’ word (Ephphatha) not only heals the deaf-mute but also to each one of us. Let us ask for the grace for an open ear, as the psalmist says, “Today, if you hear [God’s] voice, hardened not your hearts” (Ps 95:8). Let us also pray that when we have been ‘opened’ by Jesus, we will do the same as the man’s friends did, that is, help to bring those who are spiritually defective to Jesus.

Posted: September 5, 2021

May Tam

May Tam, Bachelor of Social Science (University of Hong Kong), Master of Theological Studies (University of Toronto)

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