EPHPHATHA, … BE OPENED!
(A biblical refection on THE 23rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME [YEAR B], 9 September 2018)
Gospel Reading: Mark 7:31-37
First Reading: Isaiah 35:4-7; Psalms: Psalm 146:7-10; Second Reading: James 2:1-5
The Scripture Text
Then He returned from the region of Tyre, and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, through the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to Him a man who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech; and they besought Him to lay His hand upon Him. And taking him aside from the multitude privately, He put His fingers into his ears, and He spat and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. And He charged them to tell no one; but the more He charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well; He even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.” (Mark 7:31-37 RSV)
The story in today’s Gospel begins with some people bringing to Jesus a deaf man who had a speech impediment. Taking him aside, Jesus puts His fingers into the man’s ears and touches the man’s tongue with spittle. Looking upward as if He is asking His heavenly Father for assistance, Jesus says to the man “Ephphatha”, an Aramaic word that means “be open”. Immediately, the man is able to hear and he begins to speak clearly.
While it may sound a little crude to us, touching the man’s tongue with saliva was an accepted medical practice. After observing animals licking their wounds to ward off infections, ancient people concluded that if saliva could promote healing in an animal it would also help human beings. However, because the people in Jesus’ day did not understand how or why saliva worked, they thought they could use it to cure all kinds of ailments, including blindness, deafness, and speech problems.
Since Greek is the original language of the Gospels, some people wonder why the evangelist did not translate an Aramaic word like “ephphatha” into its Greek equivalent. Because Aramaic was the everyday language of first-century Palestinian Jews, including Jesus and the apostles, biblical scholars think the Gospel writer preserved “ephphatha” (and a few other Aramaic words we find in the Gospels) in its original language because Jesus actually spoke the word on the occasion described in the story. The written accounts of what Jesus said, although accurately reflecting the substance of His message, are not word-for-word transcripts of His sermons.
The fact that Mark tells us what “ephphatha” means indicates his audience did not know Aramaic and was probably not Jewish. Therefore, Mark most likely wrote his Gospel for Gentile Christians.
Today, let us ask the Lord to open our ears to hear Him. We ask Him to open our eyes to see Him; to clear our speech of all impediments to declaring His goodness. We ask Him to restore us – spirit, mind, and body – to the life He has always intended for each and every one of us. He wants to do it. He has promised that whoever asks with faith will receive (Mark 11:24). He will do what He wants and what He promises!
(Adapted from Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 202-203.)
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You do all things well. Thank You for restoring my relationship with God the Father and for pouring out Your Holy Spirit. Fill me today with Your Holy Spirit, so that I might experience life to the full in Your presence. Amen.
Jakarta, 7 September 2018
A Christian Pilgrim