Sunday, September 5
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
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.”
In today’s Gospel, we find Jesus teaching in the largely pagan community of the Decapolis — on the East bank of the Jordan River. Jesus is presented with a man needing his hearing to be restored, who also could not properly speak. The miracle Jesus performs today has a direct link to the First Reading as it says, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed, then the lame shall leap like a deer and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy.” Jesus performs this miracle using the simple Aramaic word “Ephphatha!” — Be Opened!
The Sacrament of Baptism includes an Ephphatha rite that is proclaimed by the presiding Priest or Deacon. The presider symbolically touches the ears and mouth of the infant so that the infant one day hears the Word of God and can one day proclaim it. The opening of our ears and mouth in this rite suggests a total commitment on our part to not just passively follow Jesus with our hearing, but to actively proclaim His Church with our voice.
Many of us shy away from such an active proclamation. We may feel ill prepared to do so by being insufficiently catechized, embarrassed for our lack of understanding our faith, afraid of the ridicule of others, questioning our own commitment to the faith, or any one of a variety of other shortcomings. The unnamed man of today’s miracle had no prior experience with Jesus before this miracle. Yet even though Jesus asks for his continued silence, the man cannot contain the secret and gift he has been given and uncontrollably proclaims it.
This may provide us some solace suggesting that Jesus is telling us to maintain His “Messianic Secret” and not proclaim it. But we would be in error to assume this. Jesus had not fully revealed His mission on earth at the time of this miracle and He did not want to distract from His ultimate mission — of His death and resurrection — until such time that it could be fully revealed. We now have the Gospels fully revealed to us, so unlike the healed man, we can properly place this miracle as part of the larger picture of Jesus’ Messianic Secret. It must no longer remain secret. We are to use our ears and mouths to proclaim the good news of the Gospel. It is now expected of us rather than restricted. We can and should do this using the tools we have available to us — to the best of our knowledge — each in our own abilities. It can be messy and despite our lack of preparedness, catechesis, lack of understanding, fear of ridicule or commitment, we can and should press on.
Our world is moving aimlessly forward. We can see it in our leadership. We can see it in our daily activities and priorities. We can see it in a growing distortion or rejection of the Gospel message. By our commitment to the Ephphatha rite performed at our own Baptism, we honor the intent and desire of our parents or sponsor who brought us to Baptism. We also honor the desire of proclaiming our faith to the world around us.
Deacon Don Poirier