23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time B

In Mark’s Gospel, miracles are often hard work.  That is not the case in other Gospels such as John’s where it appears Jesus’ mere thought can heal someone.  But in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is physical; he gets into the mud, he touches and transforms.  The difference is like the two stories of creation in Genesis.  In the first, the Lord speaks and light appears while in the second God makes mud and breathes into the man to create Adam.  Mark’s Jesus is more evocative of the second story and the result is a portrait of Jesus that is personal and intimate as in the tale we hear today.

Jesus is moving through gentile territory but the people are still aware of his power.  They bring before him a man who is deaf and suffers from a speech impediment.  Jesus takes him aside, away from the preening crowd, puts his fingers in his ears, spits and touches the man tongue and cries out “Ephphatha!” which means “Be opened.”  It is an interesting word choice and the fact that it is preserved in the Aramaic of Jesus means it must have seemed terribly important to his followers.  It is even a part of the baptismal rite when the child’s ears and mouth are crossed as we pray the Lord will touch the child’s ears to hear his word and his mouth to proclaim his faith.  That is how we are opened.

Be open.  That is pretty good advice for our Church, our nation and ourselves.  For its opposite, to be closed is a curse.  Some of the saddest people I know have the smallest, most closed worlds.  Their life is about surviving, not thriving, and the only measure of success is to go from one harrowing day to the next harrowing day.  They spend their time consumed with the fears and they isolate to preserve themselves from further disappointment.  It is as if they live in a crouch, limiting their field of vision and shortening their horizon.  When you stand up again, all that has changed.  We can see further and include more people.  That is the life of Ephphatha.

So I challenge you to follow the Lord’s command to be open.  Recently I was talking to Kris Rooney, and I mentioned this is the third crisis of the Church since I became a priest.  She asked me what I did the first two times and I said, “I put on 40 pounds.”  This time I would like to try something new.  I want to be open.  I want to check in on more people, encourage them and laugh with them. I want to be a better friend and not allow those quiet sighs of others go unnoticed.  How can you be more open? During this season of creation, can we immerse ourselves in the beauty of God’s creation and see our stewardship as gift?  Advocate for a more open politics of civility where one can disagree but not be shouted down; an open politics that includes everyone.  And let us pray for a new church, open to the sense of the faithful.  Most importantly, each of us can be more open –we can be more hopeful and shrug off the shroud of cynicism.  We can be a better friend and become more concerned with the joys, concerns and struggles and hopes of one another.  We can expand our definition of neighbor to include all.  We can simply love more willingly and urgently.

But don’t forget that Ephphatha is a hard working miracle.  Jesus had to groan as he said the word.  When we are opened and our ears are unplugged and our tongues loosened, we will hear the cry of the poor and know our responsibility to speak a word of justice for them.  We will accompany people in their lives, including their sorrows.  We will be more exposed standing than we would be crouching.  But we have no choice if we are to be a disciple of Jesus Christ for he was always open.  Those arms raised in welcoming to sinner and friend are the same arms extended on the cross.  They are how we are to meet the world.  And it is in those moments that we ultimately are open to beauty.  .  We were baptized for this.  We were made for this.  Ephphatha – Be Open.