A reflection inspired by the readings of Proper 18(B), by The Reverend Anne Fraley.
They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened." And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, "He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak." (Mark 7:32-37)
Ephphatha. Be opened.
Not a command, not a plea. Jesus’ words to release the deaf man from silence are spoken softly and without urgency. They are enough to crack open a new world not only for this deaf and ineloquent man, but for those who witness the miracle of his restoration as well.
It is both a joyous and frightening turn of events. The isolation of silence has been ripped away, ushering new life into a once-comfortable—if constrained—means of existence. We take for granted the sounds of life. How often do we stop to consider that the chatter of voices signifies access to a community, even if they are strangers? Do we hear in the wind that wraps around objects in its way the mystery of God’s movement? All manner of sound carries significance for us.
We likewise undervalue the tools of communication available to us through words and voice. The words we choose and the speed and emphasis with which we deliver them are as varied in number as the stars above us. The possibilities to convey the songs of our hearts and depth of our thoughts are infinite. Denied to this man for so long, the opportunities now available to him are no doubt at once exciting and overwhelming. What was old has been made new again, and layers of meaning and nuance ripple from the mouths of others to tender, receiving ears. The sound of a loved one’s voice, once imagined and shaped by the receiver, may now seem grating and out of place. The work of integrating two realities lies before the one who has received a blessing.
How odd this may seem to us, even as we appreciate the raw truth of the experience. More startling, perhaps, is to recognize that we all live this paradox daily in a world full of conflicting values and agendas, especially as we endure a toxic political season. In these bitter months approaching an important election, I strive to listen to those with whom I disagree to understand how they come to hold the point of view to which they cling so fiercely. When those views are held rationally rather than strapped on with fear and ignorance, I am challenged to hold in tension opposing and legitimate perspectives. It’s not a comfortable place to be, often, and the effort to live with that discomfort can be exhausting.
Harder still is enduring the excessive presence of irrationality, fear, hatred and ignorance that surrounds us. We want to shake loose the known falsehoods worn like badges of honor to allow the light of truth to penetrate the dangerous layers some people wrap around themselves as apparent protection. And that is precisely what it is, protection from the pain of reconciling what we think we know and believe with what is revealed to us.
The deaf man of this gospel hasn’t known a life rich with sound, and the work of moving past his familiar confinement to encounter that world, for better or worse, is daunting. To engage the broader world requires vulnerability unlike that which he has known in silence. Jesus has not only opened his ears, but another part of his soul.
It is risky for any of us to be open to transformation. New life brings blessing with it, but living into the fullness of that new life has its own twists, turns and potential pitfalls. Too many shrink from the prospect of God’s revelation in spite of the promise of his saving help and grace. For those who stand before Christ and offer deafness to him, the blessing of having ears to hear transcends the risk and we find ourselves in the presence of the Risen One.
And so I pray, for myself and all who would entrust whatever part of our world is closed and silent, “Ephphatha. Be opened.”