Sunday, September 06, 2015

Ephphatha! 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

I got a text message this morning asking for me to prepare a  homily for today, since our rector was very much under the weather (looks like flu). Anyway, I slapped this together and ran it through Google Translate* so I could preach at our Mass in Spanish. Turned out that I did not preach at our evening Mass. Anyway, here's the English version that did not get a hearing today.
            I didn't expect to preach today, so I hope that the Holy Spirit will loosen my tongue so that I will say something worthwhile for you, however brief it may be.
            Ephphatha! Be opened. Jesus is in the Decapolis, in an area we would call Syria these days. Jesus is speaking here with Gentiles, not the Jews of his native Galilee. This is an important detail, particularly in light of the first reading from Isaiah. Had Jesus been in Galilee among the Jews, perhaps the first connection they would have made with these signs are the word of Isaiah. Perhaps they would have recognized Jesus as their long-awaited messiah. But would it have been enough for them? They would see the signs, yes, but would they understand that Jesus did not come to deliver them politically or culturally as they expected?
            The passage is puzzling as well because Jesus tells the people not to tell anyone what happened. Why would He do this? Why tell them not to spread the word? Perhaps it was for the same reason that He didn't want the Jews to know yet that He was the long-awaited Messiah. He knew that they would bring their own expectations to this understanding. They would mistake Him for a political savior, an earthly king. But that is not what Jesus was about. He came for much more. And for them to come to the proper understanding, they needed to hear what Jesus came to say. They needed to hear the gospel first. In a way, the miracles get in the way of His primary mission because the people focus on them instead of His message. But Jesus was also merciful, and His miracles were really a sign of that mercy, not just a proof of His Divine power.
            Our baptismal rite includes a reference to this passage—a sacramental that we call the Ephphetha. We touch the ears and lips of the children being baptized with our thumb and say, "The Lord made the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father." Like baptism, all of our sacraments are very physical. They all involve matter of some kind—water for baptism, oils for confirmation and anointing of the sick. This passage here is about as physical and earthy as it gets. Jesus spits on His fingers and touches the tongue of the deaf-mute man. In another passage from the gospel, he spits and makes mud to smear on a blind man's eyes. Jesus demonstrates in the institution of our sacraments that we need these physical signs, that we come to understand His goodness through our experience. And that is how we ultimately come to understand, to hear the gospel—not just with our ears but with our hearts. We have to be prepared to hear it, to have ears opened. But having the capacity to hear is not the same as truly listening. And that's why Jesus tells the Gentiles of the Decapolis not to talk about the miracle. He wants them to listen first, to come to understand the gospel.
            We have an adage that God gave us to ears to hear and one mouth to speak, and that we should do both in that proportion—that is, to listen more than we speak. In my own experience of my faith, I can say that I have sometimes failed to follow that advice. But we have a mission. Jesus gave us a mission to take His words and proclaim them to the world in our words and our deeds. How can we know what to proclaim if we do not listen to Him? How can we speak the words of truth if we have not heard them? How can we give what we don't have?

            Christ is present to us at Mass in numerous ways. First and foremost, He is present in a mysterious way in the Eucharist we will celebrate, but He is also present in His word. We are strengthened as we receive communion today so that we can better proclaim the truth to the world. So hear the Word of God, be strengthened, then let your mouth be opened to tell the world how God has done all things well for you.
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