“Be open,” Jesus commanded the deaf and mute Ephphatha. At first sight, the gospel speaks of the physical healing of the deaf and mute.
Reflecting on our Sunday readings with Bro Lincoln Lee
23rd Sunday at normal time readings:
Isaiah 35: 4-7a; James 2: 1-5; Gospel:
Mark 7: 31-37
I couldn’t help but giggle at the irony of the gospel reading. In today’s global pandemic, if someone came up to us with the intent of spreading spit near our bodies, we would likely be walking in the opposite direction. Things were obviously very different in Jesus’ day. However, the story conveys a deeper message that is extremely relevant to each of us today.
“Be open,” Jesus commanded the deaf and mute Ephphatha. At first sight, the gospel speaks of the physical healing of the deaf and mute. However, any healing that Jesus performs is seldom just a physical healing; usually it is also a healing of the mind and spirit. Hence, much can be gleaned from deeper reflection on the gospel.
First, it speaks of the ephphatha of our physical senses, just like that of the deaf and dumb person. In today’s pandemic, Jesus urges us to open our eyes and ears to the cries of those hardest hit by the pandemic. We must not ignore the screams of the poor and the least, but always be open and be aware of the needs of our neighbors. We should always be aware of the people around us, be aware of their needs, be it physical, emotional, mental or spiritual.
This leads to the ephphatha of our hands, mouth and legs. Jesus loves a happy giver, they say. In today’s pandemic with many in need, being aware of the need and the needs of others is only part of the equation. The other part is how we should respond to our neighbors’ needs; and we should answer generously. This goes beyond opening our wallets, it means a wider opening to the giving and sharing of our time, skills and presence, just as Jesus did for this man.
Then there is also the ephphathas of our spiritual senses to be open to the Lord’s presence despite the spiritual struggles we face, especially when the churches remain closed in this difficult situation. The sacraments are an integral part of our Catholic faith, but it is also important to recognize Christ in scripture and in everything we have or do. The beliefs of those in the gospel story who recognized and trusted Jesus could not be more relevant to the spiritual challenges we face in today’s pandemic world. Just like the prophet Isaiah says in the first reading: “He comes to save you”. Although most of us have not been able to sacramentally receive Jesus in the Eucharist for some time, we can still receive him daily in prayer, in the people we meet and in the graces he gives us, Looking for.
In addition, we can also remember that this Sunday’s readings remind us to be Ephphatha for the movement of the Holy Spirit within us. In the second reading, St. James reminds us of the importance of discernment in our daily choices, which is undoubtedly applicable in our lives as well. He advises us not only not to judge others harshly, but also to recognize our own actions. In today’s world, judgment is an important spiritual tool that helps us make wise choices that are in accordance with God’s will.
Then we also have the opening of our minds. With endless lockdowns and frequent policy changes, we are reminded of Ephphatha in the way we think. The world and our way of life has been turned upside down. Since the beginning of 2020, the way we work, live, interact and socialize has changed so much. The new norms are still developing. This includes being open to the need for vaccinations, wearing masks and keeping social distance to protect the youngest and smallest in our society.
Finally, there is also an ephphatha to be received from ourselves. The pandemic has put all of us under unprecedented pressure and Jesus reminds us, like the deaf and mute, to be open to the help of others. It is “OK to be wrong,” and there is no shame in opening up to others for help. By opening up to receive help from others, we allow others to serve and thus fulfill the ministry of their calling.
Therefore, the readings on this Sunday are an apt and gentle reminder of Jesus, not only for our pandemic times, but also in our daily lives. Let us always ask for the grace of Ephphatha in every aspect of our life, always to be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit, the ability to recognize Jesus in everything, to be generous in everything we have and to ask for help when we need it. As the prophet Isaiah says in first reading, Ephphatha will bring joy in these troubled times; it will be as if “the water gushes out in the desert, streams flow in the wasteland, the scorched earth becomes a lake and the parched land gushes water”.
(Bro Lincoln Lee is a fourth year seminarian in the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur. He graduated from College General in Penang with a degree in philosophy and is currently serving his pastoral year in the Church of Divine Mercy in Shah Alam.)