Hebrew is a language rich in imagery and symbolism without the vocabulary to express abstract ideas. If we take an abstract English word like ‘anger’ for example, our understanding of the word has many meanings: from mildly heated emotions to rage; smoulder resentment or severe irritation and numerous other meanings. In Hebrew, the word for ‘anger’ literally means, flaring nostrils – the word produces a vivid and eloquent mental picture of the emotion.
The ancient Hebrew people in the time of Isaiah (700-800 years BC) expressed the abstract description of human behaviour in terms of three physical zones. The heart-eye zone symbolized emotions and thought; the mouth-ear zone symbolized speech and self-expression; the hands and feet symbolised action and activity. In the first reading, Isaiah addresses all three physical zones in expressing the abstract idea that God will restore us completely; that we will be brought into communion with God in our whole being. The blind (a mal-function of the eye-heart zone) will see; the deaf (a mal-function of the mouth-ear zone) will hear; the lame (a mal-function of the hand-feet zone) will leap; and the mute (mouth-ear zone) will sing. ‘Courage!’ he says ‘Do not be afraid ….. God is coming
And this reading from Isaiah leads us directly into the Gospel reading. The story begins with the details of a somewhat strange itinerary. The journey to the Sea of Galilee from Tyre via Sidon is a little like travelling from Johannesburg to Cape Town via Pretoria. The journey probably took many months and would have been very valuable time for the disciples as they started to recognise that this man Jesus was more than a healer and miracle worker. In the following chapter of Mark’s gospel Jesus asks them who they think he is and Peter declares for the first time “You are the Messiah.”
The man that the people brought to Jesus for healing was deaf and dumb. I think of him being escorted to Jesus and I can’t help feeling that he must have been a little bewildered and perhaps even frightened by all the activity around him in his world of silence. And I think Jesus senses this man’s helplessness and vulnerability and that’s why he takes him away from the crowd so that they can be together alone; just the two of them. Jesus calls each one of us to come out of the crowd, come away from the noise that surrounds us and be alone with him; just the two of us together. Not for ever, not for long, just long enough for him to touch our ears and our mouths. “Ephphatha” he says “Be opened.” The people of that time believed that there was power in words and so Mark records the precise Aramaic word used by Jesus ‘Ephphatha’ so that it doesn’t lose its power. The rite of Ephphatha has been preserved in our liturgy and is said over children when they are baptised “Ephphatha – May the Lord Jesus soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith.”
The vast majority of us here have received that blessing but how open are we to Jesus?
We could examine our relationship with Jesus in terms of the three zones of our being starting with the eye-heart zone. Is it not true that our eyes are the windows of our soul? The images and words that saturate our eyes flow directly to our hearts and can as easily rouse passion or anger as they can quieten fear and anxiety.
What we read and watch and the way in which we look at people and places can as easily fuel hatred, disrespect, prejudice and deceit as it can love, tolerance, integrity and awe. Ephphatha – open your eyes and nourish your heart.
Our mouth-ear zone refers to the words that come out of our mouths and the sounds that go into our ears. But it’s much more than prayer, praise and worship. Do others hear the voice of Jesus through our words? Do we bless others often with words of encouragement, support, affection and love? Are our ears open to the cry of the hungry, the lonely, the sick and the unwanted? Ephphatha – open your ears and speak words of love and comfort.
Our hand-feet zone is about action and activity. Are we walking towards Jesus or running away from him? Do we dance every day in celebration of life with all its difficulties and challenges or do we trample on our daily blessings as we lament our troubles? Are our hands channels of healing, gentleness and comfort or are they clenched always ready for a fight or ready to point in blame or accusation. Do we take people by the hand or by the throat? Through our actions and conduct do we bring others to Jesus as the people brought the blind man or does our behaviour push them away? Ephphatha – be open to the Holy Spirit in the choices we make about our actions and our behaviour.
After I returned from WYD in Sydney last year, you may recall that I spoke one weekend about the event and tried to describe how it had been for me an ‘Ephphatha’ experience. My eyes and ears, heart and mind, were opened as never before to seeing the Church for what she truly is: the Body of Christ, a living community of love; the tangible presence of the Holy Spirit; a profound experience of God’s kingdom.
Next Sunday evening after the 6pm Mass we are launching our preparations for WYD11 in Spain and you are all invited to come along and find out more about it. We’ll be showing a short movie that I made of the highlights of our trip last year and we’ll be talking about making plans for WYD in Madrid. Ephphatha – be open to the call of Jesus in your heart to make that pilgrimage and encounter the Holy Spirit in an exceptional way at WYD.