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23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 35: 4-7a; Psalm 146: 7-10; James 2: 1-5; Mark 7: 31-37
Holy Spirit Church: September 5, 2021

Ephphatha! What a strange sounding word.
It is an Aramaic word, the language which Jesus of Nazareth spoke. Ephphatha!
When Mark wrote his gospel in the 1st century in Greek, he retained this Aramaic word,
a word that would have actually been spoken by Jesus. Ephphatha! Be opened!

But this is not the only time Mark used the original language of Jesus in his gospel.
Remember back at the end of June when we heard proclaimed in this place the encounter
between Jesus and the 12-year-old daughter of Jairus.
Everyone thought her dead on her bed, but Jesus reaches out, takes her hand and says
to her, “Talitha koum”, which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” (Mark 5:41)
And so she does, responding to the words of Jesus, “Talitha koum.”

Then there are the words spoken in anguish by Jesus on the cross in Mark’s gospel.
“Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani” which we heard proclaimed on Palm Sunday
at the end of March. (Mark 15:34)
This saying in Aramaic is translated as, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”

Ephphatha; Talitha koum; eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani—these Aramaic words
connect us to the historical Jesus, reminding us that he was a real person
who spoke a specific language, that he lived at a certain time and in a certain place.
He healed those whose bodies were broken, lifted up those lying
on their deathbeds, and by his own death brought the ultimate healing—
the gift of a life beyond this life where there will be no more suffering nor sorrow
nor death anymore.

Like his healing of the man who was deaf and mute, Jesus longs to speak over us
the same word today—Ephphatha—that is, “Be opened.”
The Risen Jesus, who still is with us by the power of His Spirit,
longs to touch those parts of us that are closed off to his love and open them up.

Jesus reaches out to touch the man in today’s Gospel in those specific places
which needed healing— his ears and his tongue.
In this very intimate encounter between Jesus and this man apart from the crowds,
Jesus physically touches those places in him which are closed off and need opening.
So Jesus longs to do with each one of us.

Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves, and he knows those places in our heart
that we have closed which need to be opened.
He knows how we compartmentalize our life by spending some time with him in prayer but then closing off the rest of our day to him
It is those parts of our life that he wants to reach out to touch with his healing power.

Jesus is very aware as well of those parts of our life from the past
which we still carry locked away because of much hurt or pain,
parts of our life that we have never opened up to anybody about, much less Him.
But he knows even these very intimate parts of our life and longs to reach out
and touch them and say, “Be opened” that his healing love might flow into them.

Throughout our life we also close ourselves off to other people.
We become “deaf” to them, deaf to their cries.
Our tongues become shackled—we do not even speak to them.
Now these can be people who have hurt us, but they also can be certain groups of people who we shut out because they are different from us.

The community to which St. James addresses his letter struggled
with being open to the poor in their midst.
For us, it may be the same, or we may close our hearts to those of a
different political persuasion, or race, or ethnicity, or gender.

The Risen Jesus speaks to us in these places of our heart that have been closed off:
Ephphatha—BE OPENED!

Being open to hear the Word of God is a life-long process, an ongoing journey of healing.
Being open to hear the Will of God involves a daily turning to Jesus to open us up
to the Father’s will and help us to accomplish it.

For most of us our journey of faith begins in the waters of baptism as a child,
so this process of being ever more open to God’s word starts there as well.
One of the rituals of baptism enacted after the giving of the candle is the
“Ephphatha Rite.” That right, you heard me right, it is the “Ephphatha Rite.”

The minister touches the child’s ears and mouth while saying:
“May the Lord Jesus, who made the deaf to hear and the mute to speak,
grant that you may soon receive his word with your ears & profess the faith
with your lips to the glory and praise of God the Father.”

May we receive the word of God spoken today by the prophet Isaiah,
“Be strong, fear not. Here is your God…he comes to save you.” (Isaiah 35:4)

May we profess this faith with our lips by encouraging others
to be strong in the Lord’s saving love.

As the Lord Jesus reaches out to touch us in this sacred meal of the Eucharist,
may we be opened to his presence in others.”

Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi