“Ephphatha”… “Be opened”
Hearing and seeing are the biblical senses of the understanding. It might seem, at first, that they are simply about what is received, that they are, as it were, merely passive senses, the senses of reception. Something seen is received by the eye; something heard is received by the ear. But there is an activity as well, the activity of seeing and the activity of hearing.
What is seen and heard is there for the understanding. There is something communicated, the meaning of which we enter into through the activity of understanding. For it is not just the words which are heard or the vision which is seen that is received. What the words signify, what the vision reveals, is given to be understood.
Our understanding is our wrestling with the significance of things. It is a profoundly spiritual activity. It speaks to who we are in the sight of God – those to whom God reveals himself and into whose presence he would have us come. Hearing and seeing as the senses of understanding mean that there is an acting upon what is received. There is a similar double-sidedness to our “being opened.”
In the Gospel for today, “they bring unto [Jesus] one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech”. They beseech the healing touch of Jesus upon someone who is deaf and, if not altogether dumb, at least impeded in his speech to the point that others must speak for him. In response to their request, Jesus puts his fingers into his ears, spits upon the ground, and touches his tongue – all outward, tangible and physical acts – but, as well, and just as remarkably, Jesus’ “look[s] up to heaven”, “he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, be opened”. There is, in short, a healing: “and straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.”
As with all the healing miracles of the gospels, they signify the restoration of our humanity. What is wanted by God is not the deformity of our being but the perfection of our humanity. What is wanted is our being made totally and completely adequate to the truth of God; in short, our being opened to God signals our willingness to will what God wills for us.
We are opened in two senses. There is our being opened to receive and there is our being opened to give. We are not just opened to receive; we are also being opened to give of ourselves out of what we have received. “Open your hearts”, St. Paul tells the Corinthians (2 Cor.7.2). He means that they are to give of themselves. They are to act upon what they have received. That too is a kind of openness.
What we are opened out to sets us in motion towards one another. It opens us out to live sacrificial lives, to be giving of ourselves. It is only then that we are truly opened for only then are we acting in the image of the one who has opened his heart totally and completely to us in the sacrifice of the cross. We come to church to be opened to something that is greater than ourselves without which we cannot live beyond ourselves. Our being opened is our being open to God in his transcendent truth and beauty and goodness that is the ground of all reality.
In this healing miracle, Christ looks up to heaven. There is, we may say, his openness to the Father out of which comes the healing grace in the form of the words “be opened”. The word is spoken in Aramaic – “Ephphatha” – but its meaning, its significance, is also opened to us by the Evangelist, St. Mark. He gives the word and he gives the interpretation, “be opened”.
On the cross, too, Christ looks up to heaven. His last word is to commend everything in himself into the hands of the Father. “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit”. There is the total openness of the Son to the Father in prayer and praise. There is a fundamental connection between the healing miracles of Christ and the death and resurrection of Christ, and, even more profoundly, with the give and take of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, the mutual reciprocity of the Trinity itself. We are being opened to the mystery of God!
We are opened out to the truth of God so that we can enter into that truth, give ourselves to it, and offer our prayers and praises for it. For what do we give in the giving of ourselves? We give our prayers and praises, our “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving” to God, which impel us towards one another in love. For our prayers and praises are never solitary. They always connect us to one another and to God, to a community in praise of God, a community of prayer and loving service. And such is the Church – if ever we are to be the Church and not some sad parody of its wonderful mystery endlessly chasing the uncertain certainties of the issues du jour in the confusions of our culture. What will it take? Only the giving of ourselves to what has been opened out to us. What has been opened out to us? Simply the great and grand things of God himself and for us – the Trinity, the Incarnation and the redemptive work of Christ. “Our sufficiency is from God”, the epistle reminds us. The gospel underlines the point: they “were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well; he maketh both the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak”. Will that be said of us?
To be opened then, means to give. It is the strong counter to our contemporary “consumer”religion of pleasure and comfort which is all take and no give. It is the strong counter to the ideologies of our day which collapse God and his revelation into themselves. Such things are not open but closed to the truth of God revealed. He would have us opened to himself and so to one another. In these days of renewed beginnings and challenges as priest and people together, we need to be open to one another, to be sure, but only, and first and foremost, by being open to the things of God. Only then shall we behold the glory.
Fr. David Curry
Trinity 12, 2019