XXIII Sunday in Ordinary Time: 'Ephphata'

The liturgy of this Sunday is an invitation to welcome the beauty of the promises of God. In the First reading from Isaiah, we are told:"The eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf opened, then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy" (Is 35,5). We see how God promises that we will never thirst, never hunger. He will always satisfy our desires!

In the Gospel, Jesus challenges the way we relate to others. Sometimes sickness or disability can make us feel awkward but Jesus shows us that we cannot expect to enter into relationship with others if we are not prepared to enter into the messiness and the imperfection of each others lives. This is the Incarnation where God comes into what is utterly human. The incarnation is a reminder that God does not wait for us in marble temples or buttressed cathedrals; rather, He is present with us in the ordinary, the squeamish, the everyday stuff that we wallow in. The incarnation is God-with-us, a God who is Divine yet became flesh.

This is why Jesus touches the man who is deaf and mute. He could have easily said: "Man, you're healed, off you go!". He could have healed him without saying anything at all. However, He put his fingers in his ears. There's more...He spat ( Jesus spat....I can see kids getting plenty of mileage out of this!) and then He touched his tongue. These are very personal and intimate gestures. We do not know whether the man was a Jew or a Gentile. The fact that Jesus used Aramaic in His healing is hardly decisive. When He spoke the words the man was still deaf!  Probably he is intended to represent both Jew and Gentile, for all were deaf to God and His word.He calls out: 'Ephphata', that is, 'Be opened'.

St. Damian of Molokai
Jesus sighs: an expression of his pity for the miseries of human life, and his sympathy with the afflicted in their afflictions. I think of St. Damian of Molokai, the 'leper' saint. After sixteen years caring for the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of his brothers and sisters in the leper colony in Hawaii, he eventually contracted and died of the disease, and is considered a 'martyr of charity'. He too was not afraid to enter into the messiness of the Incarnation!

Recently during the International Eucharistic Congress in Ireland, I had my first working experience with the Deaf Community in Ireland. Special efforts had been made to ensure that all the workshops and liturgies were friendly for our hearing impaired friends. I remember back when we had one of our training days for the volunteers back in March, we had our Eucharistic celebration with a strong participation from the volunteers from the Deaf/Mute Track. I was sitting near them and I have to confess my curiosity distracted me regularly during the celebration. We were blessed to have the chaplain from the Deaf Community who celebrated using sign language. As a liturgical assembly we signed the Alleluia. It was very strange for me not to sing! Reading today's Gospel, I asked myself what it must be like not to be able to praise the Lord with your voice. Not to be able to vocally sing even though your heart is singing?

When I was traveling home by bus in July for holidays, I had a beautiful experience. I was sitting near a family, a mother, father and 4 year old child. They were on their way back to Galway after the child having had an operation because he was deaf. An small external device had been placed on his head and for the first time in four years he could hear everything!  Every single noise, every single word! He couldn't stay still for the whole journey as every time he heard a noise or someone talked or a phone rang, he would get so excited because he could actually hear them! The mother kept apologizing for the child being so 'unsettled' but I have to say, judging from the smiles of the people who knew the story, we didn't mind at all. It was a moment of Ephphata! There is a lovely video on youtube which shows something similar. It is the experience of a child who hears for the first time!

On a spiritual level, we often need the Lord to pronounce his words of Ephphata: to open our ears to hear his voice, to open our lips to praise his name. We can ask ourselves, what was our experience when we heard God for the first time? What silences us and takes away the power of our speech? What makes us deaf? Are we selectively deaf especially when it comes to truths which we don't want to hear about ourselves?

Happy Ephphata Sunday to you! May the Lord open your heart!