September 9; 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time; Year B

23rd OTEphphatha!

Have you ever found yourself in a shouting match where your opponent and you have tried, without much success, to silence the other? So many words are exchanged but few registers. Whatever reasonable arguments that may be put forward are drowned out by the noise of each other’s voice competing in ascending crescendo. It’s hard to make sense of anything, when our hearts and minds are closed, even as our ears are assaulted by the noise coming from the other. The art of active listening, of really hearing one another, is already difficult to learn, hard to do, under ordinary circumstances. It’s almost impossible in the heat of the argument. Wouldn't it be amazing if right when we were in the middle of an argument (right before you slam the phone receiver down or stomp out of the room), we could scream: “EPHPHATHA!”?

This is what the Lord spoke to the man who was deaf and mute in today’s gospel. EPHPHATHA! It’s the kind of word that makes a professional elocutionist take pause. It’s the Aramaic imperative verb meaning “Open up!” It’s the sort of thing you might shout at the government officer after the counter has closed, or the sort of thing you might do when your son or daughter slams the door of their bedroom in your face or Ali Baba would shout in front of the robbers’ cave if he spoke Aramaic. Many times, we want to be heard, and rightly so. One of the most terrible experiences we can have while talking with others is the realisation that they are not listening, that they are distracted, that they are not that interested in what we have to say. The greater tragedy is when we have little awareness of our own deafness to the other’s cry.

But this is the word we all need to hear from the Lord today, EPHPHATHA! Be opened! What needs to be opened? Well, just like the dumb and mute person in today’s gospel, our deafness would not be evident unless someone highlights it to us. Often, the word comes with much shock and a great deal more resistance. “What is there to be opened?” “I’m okay!” “It is you with the problem, not me!” How many times have we heard from friends and even foes something unpleasant about ourselves, even though we know it is true? Perhaps, in that moment, we are disconcerted, angry or saddened by what we hear; upon reflexion, though, we come to understand and realise the truth in what has been said. But we are just too proud to admit it.

Yes, we all need to hear that healing, sometimes consoling but often painfully challenging word, “EPHPHATHA” “Open up!” It’s more than just our ears or eyes. Yes, our senses need to be opened but more importantly what needs to be opened are our hearts. Because real listening is more than picking up soundwaves and real seeing is more than perceiving light through our eyes. They also require an openness of heart to digest and accept the truth of what we perceive.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI tells us that the word “Ephphatha” sums up the entire mission of Christ. He explained that the closure of the deaf and mute man, his isolation does not solely depend on the sense organs. There is an inner closing, which covers the deepest core of the person, the “heart.” That is why Jesus came to “open” to liberate, to enable us to fully live our relationship with God and with others. Because humanity is inwardly deaf and mute as a result of sin, God became man in the person of Christ so that we “become able to hear the voice of God, the voice of love speaking to our heart, and learn to speak in the language of love.”

Ephphatha! – Be open. Jesus is telling us the same healing word right now. We might not be physically mute or deaf, but one can also experience deafness and muteness on different levels: deaf to the call of forgiveness and reconciliation from those people who might have hurt and wronged us; deaf to the cries and agonies of the poor, the homeless, the refugee and the migrant; deaf or indifference to the teachings of the Church that might be challenging and hard to follow; or probably playing deaf when our teachers and parents ask us to do something for our own good; or deaf to the valid complaints of our spouse. The list can go on and on.

If a man does not want to hear the word of God, then he is spiritually deaf. There are people who think they have heard it all before. Like the deaf man, we are trapped in our own little world. We cannot get out. Nor do we really want to get out. We tune out God’s voice so that we can continue to live in sin with our boyfriend or girlfriend or if we’re married, with the other man or woman. We turn a deaf ear to God’s peace so we can walk in the door after work ready for a fight with our spouse. We close our ears to God’s love and mercy so that our hearts are filled with resentment and revenge. We turn a blind eye to the beauty of God’s creation so that we may complain about whatever piddly annoyance that aggravates us. We fail to see God’s overarching will for our lives so we are consumed with worry and doubt. We are so nearsighted looking only at the trinkets of this world that we miss out on the treasures of the world to come.

Thank God the Lord continues to pry open our enclosed hearts. He still continues to whisper and even shouts into our ears blocked up with the earwax of sin, “Ephphatha!” “Open Up.” Through your baptism, now you can hear, now you can speak. Your ears have been opened to hear the voice of the Lord. Your tongue has been loosened to praise your Saviour for what He has done for you. Your heart has been healed. Your soul has been saved.

Since the Lord has opened up our spiritual senses through the gift of baptism and the sacraments, may our parish be ready to open its heart and doors to welcome the stranger, the outcast, the sick, the downtrodden, the hungry, the poor, the migrant, or in the words of our Archbishop, “the lost, the last, the least and the little.” May this congregation bear witness to the love of God at work in and through us for the healing and redemption of the world. Let our community open wide our arms, wide enough to hug, to heal, and to hold on to those who are slipping away. Being open to what God is doing in each of us personally and as a community, and being open to where God is calling this faith family means moving out beyond the walls of this Church, to bring the good news of Christ to others and to serve where we are called to serve. It means connecting more deeply with the needs of our neighbours. It means opening our hearts even when they’re breaking. It means opening our minds, even when we disagree. It means opening our arms even when they’re too full with the demands of life already.

God knows, even if we don’t, how much we all need healing. When our hearts are closed and our world has shrunken, our Lord enters into our lives with His love. All we are asked to do is to allow Him to enter into our hearts, to say to us: “Be opened”. Being open will challenge and stretch us. And what the Lord has opened, let us never shut again. And if we find our hearts shut by the burden of sin and indifference, let us pray to the Lord who made the deaf hear, the blind see, and the lame walk: “Pry Open our hearts O Lord. Push, pull, stretch, bend, or twist any way you can to open us. Open us to share the gifts you have given us, and to the deep yearning to share them gladly and boldly. Open us to initiate the exchange of forgiveness, to risk a new beginning free of past grievances, and to find the gifts of a larger love and a deeper peace. Open us so that we may be born anew in the fullness of your image, the fullness of a just and joyful human community, and the fullness of your kingdom of love peace and justice. Amen.”