Trinity 14: “ephphatha” – Be Opened!
St Mark 7. 24-37
There’s one word in the Gospel today that sums up the whole mission of Jesus Christ. It’s one small word that sums up all His work. The Evangelist Mark gives us that word in the very language that Jesus spoke so that we can hear it even more vividly. The word is ephphatha. It means “be opened”.
Jesus was crossing the region known as Decapolis, between the coast of Tyre and Sidon and Galilee. This is an area that was Gentile not Jewish. They brought him someone with a disability to be healed, someone who was deaf and also mute. Jesus’ fame had spread even among the Gentiles. Jesus takes this person aside, away from the crowd. He touches his ears and his tongue and then, looking up to heaven, He says with a deep sigh: ephphatha - “be opened”. And the man immediately begins to hear and to speak.
So the historical and literal meaning of this word ephphata is that, thanks to Jesus, a deaf and mute person “was opened”. Previously he had been closed and isolated. It had been very difficult for him to communicate. Now, for him, healing means an “opening” to others and to the world. It’s an opening that starts with his ears and his tongue, his hearing and his speech. But this healing involves his whole self and his whole life. At last he can communicate and relate to other people in a new way.
The Church has understood the miracle of what Jesus did for that man to be a sign pointing to a greater reality. It points the reality of what Jesus has come to do for all of us. We know that a person’s closure and isolation doesn’t just depend on their sense organs. There is an inner closure too. It’s an inner closure that affects a person’s inmost self, what the Bible calls the “heart”.
Separation and division and loneliness characterize our existence after the fall. Perhaps watching TV on our own eating a ready meal for one is an image of what it is to be fallen. We are reduced to being isolated individuals instead of persons who are sustained by our deep communion with God and with other people.
Jesus came to purify our hearts and that means that He came to “open” our hearts. He came to liberate us. He came as to allow us to live our relationships with God and with other people to the full.
That’s why this small word, ephphatha — “be opened”, sums up the whole mission of Jesus Christ. Men and women have been made inwardly deaf and mute by sin. Jesus Christ was made man to allow them to hear God’s voice. He was made man so that we can hear the voice of Love speaking to our hearts. He was made man so that we can learn to speak the language of love to communicate with God and with others.
That’s why some Baptism services include this word ephphatha. The priest touches the mouth and ears of a newly baptized person and says that word –ephphatha. The priest prays that the person being baptised may soon hear the word of God and profess the faith. Through Baptism its as if a person begins to breathe the Holy Spirit whom Jesus invoked from the Father with that deep sigh in order to heal that person who was deaf and mute.
Baptism has been called a “radical conversion from individualism to personhood.” Someone who is baptized is not alone any more. As the Book of Common Prayer puts it in the prayer of thanksgiving after the congregation have received Holy Communion:
“…we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people.”
So when we begin to breath the Holy Spirit, He does not create good individual Christians, individual ‘saints’. We are opened. We are healed of our loneliness. We participate in an event of communion.
And this event of communion is the very life of God on earth, the communion of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to whom be all glory and praise, now and forever.
The Rev'd Dr James Lawson, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 05/09/2021