A Reflection for 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B).
Isaiah 35:4-7 – James 2:1-5 – Mark 7:31-37.
While I was still in minor seminary, back in the Stone Age, the Rector held a conference for us seminarians on the factors in conspiracy theory and where these factors correlate with a range of spiritual beliefs. To make the content of his lecture accessible to the students, he told us a story about a group of people who loathed being subject to a certain king’s autocratic rule, and he showed how the group conspired to bring about the king’s overthrow. The Rector related the story as if it were a movie screenplay, acting it out and changing his accent and posture to suit the characters. Hollywood, Next Stop! Anyway, sitting beside the open entrance door to the hall was a seminarian whose body was present but whose mind was elsewhere. He was daydreaming. The Rector eventually reached the point in the story where the conspirators were gathered together in one room and their leader commanded one of them to “shut the door, please!”. He delivered this line authoritatively with a flamboyant gesture towards the lecture room door. That brought the daydreamer back to reality with a bump, and his eyes met those of the Rector. The dozy seminarian mistakenly thought that he was the one being told to shut the door. He shot out of his chair and made to close the door. Everyone except him erupted into hysterics. The young man was bewildered and embarrassed. “Sorry, I didn’t mean for you to close the door”, explained the Rector kindly when he eventually recovered his composure. “Just leave the door open, please. Learn your lesson from this incident, young man. Always pay attention to God’s word, and always leave your heart open to Him”.
Dear brothers and sisters, the Aramaic expression “Ephphatha!” means ‘Be opened!’ In today’s Gospel reading, “Ephphatha!” is the command which Jesus used to heal the man who was brought to Him, the man who was burdened with deafness and a speech impediment. Today’s teaching is not about opening or closing just a door; it is about opening the doors in our lives that we have closed to shut us off from God and from each other. In the 1st reading, Isaiah prophesied that God would liberate the People of God, opening up areas in their lives that were closed off. And the point is that He does! God opens us up to enable us to be healed from our own physical and spiritual blindness, deafness, dumbness, or from whatever our personal disability may be, and to be provided for through His Providence with whatever we are lacking.
In the 2nd reading, St James echoed Isaiah’s point. He too noted an attitude that has no place in the Church, and which ought to be purged from everyone claiming to live out the Christian life. That attitude is people’s deliberate blindness, deafness and dumbness with regard to what Christ taught about taking care of the poor (in the multiple senses of being “poor”), and about having an option for the poor (we see this especially in St Luke’s Gospel) over against the preference most people have for associating with people of means. If you have the opportunity to spend time in the company of people who are deaf and dumb, it will strike you just how precious the gifts of speech and hearing actually are. The loss of these gifts is socially isolating. The deaf are cut off from the world of sound and have little or no ability to participate in conversation, to hear the laughter of children, plus they are deprived of the joy of listening to music. Like them, the dumb have to resort to sign language or the written word in order to communicate. It’s hard work for the deaf and the dumb to communicate effectively with us, and for us to communicate with them, which is why it’s so much easier for us to give up our efforts in embarrassment or to avoid becoming involved with them in the first place. If we do make the effort to spend time with them, however, we get an insight into their plight, and as a result, we get more adept at being alongside them. The same is true when we purposefully spend time with the lowliest of people – the destitute, the orphans, the marginalised, and so on. The very act of reaching out to them equips us with the moral courage to be there for them, as Christ was and always is, both with them and with each one of us. All too often we exhibit blindness, deafness and taciturnity. The deaf and dumb man is a figure of the whole human race: his plight is ours, insofar as we often turn a deaf ear to what God is saying to us, and if we do acknowledge what He is saying, we fail to act upon it by communicating it to others.
Let us always be grateful to God for the gifts of our physical sight and hearing, and for the many other gifts he has showered upon us, gifts which are concrete examples of His abundant grace towards us. Let us also, like the people who brought the deaf and dumb man to Jesus, express our care and concern for those whose hearing and speech impediments cause them to live lonely lives on the margins of society, for those whose ears and mouths are closed to God, and for those who have never been given the opportunity to come to know God. Let us continually lift up in prayer these needy people to Jesus, and help them in practical terms to find Jesus in their lives. We all need the healing hand of Christ to make us hear and utter the message of God, to make us offer a listening ear to the lonely, the troubled, and the worried; to give words of encouragement, hope, gratitude and truth when they are sorely needed. We all need Jesus to reach out and heal each one of us of every eruption of jealousy, envy and pride.
Sometimes we are faint-hearted when we ought to be witnessing to God. Yes, it’s sometimes difficult to open ourselves, our ears and our mouths for God to use us to His glory; but remember that it can all be accomplished by God’s grace, as we are assured in today’s Responsorial Psalm. So, be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go (Josh 1:9). Let the Lord speak to your inner being: “Ephphatha – Be opened!” Amen. God bless you.