Ephphatha — Openness of body, mind, spirit and soul during the pandemic

“Be Opened”, Jesus commanded the deaf and mute man, Ephphatha. At first glance, the Gospel speaks of the physical healing of a deaf and mute man.

Sep 04, 2021

                         Reflecting on our Sunday Readings with Bro Lincoln Lee

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Readings:
Isaiah 35:4-7a; James 2:1-5; Gospel:
Mark 7:31-37

I couldn’t but help chuckle at the irony of the Gospel reading. In today’s global pandemic, should someone walk up to us with the intention of spreading spittle anywhere near our body, we would probably run in the opposite direction. Obviously, things were very different in the time of Jesus. The story does, however, convey a deeper message which is extremely relevant to each of us today.

“Be Opened”, Jesus commanded the deaf and mute man, Ephphatha. At first glance, the Gospel speaks of the physical healing of a deaf and mute man. However, any healing that Jesus performs is rarely just a physical healing; usually it is a healing of mind and spirit as well. Therefore, much can be gleaned from a deeper reflection of the Gospel.

Firstly, it speaks of the Ephphatha of our physical senses, just like those of the deaf and mute man. In today’s pandemic, Jesus tells us to open our eyes and ears to the cries of those hardest hit by the pandemic. We must not turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to the cries of the poor and the least, but always be open and aware of the needs of our neighbours. We should always be aware of those around us, aware of their needs, be those needs physical, emotional, mental or spiritual.

This leads to the Ephphatha of our hands, mouth and legs. Jesus loves a cheerful giver, so the saying goes. In today’s pandemic, where many are in need, being aware of the need and plight of others is just one part of the equation. The other part is how we should respond to the needs of our neighbours; and respond generously we should. This goes beyond opening our wallets, it implies a wider opening of giving and sharing our time, capabilities and presence, just as Jesus did for that man.

Then there is also the Ephphatha of our spiritual senses, to be open to the presence of the Lord, despite the spiritual struggles we face, especially with churches remaining closed during this trying situation. The Sacraments are an integral part of our Catholic faith, but it is also important to recognise Christ in Scripture and indeed, in everything we have or do. The faith of those in the Gospel story, they who recognised Jesus and trusted in Him, could not be more relevant to the spiritual challenges we face in today’s pandemic world. Just as the Prophet Isaiah says in the first reading, “He is coming to save you”. Although most of us have been unable to receive Jesus sacramentally in the Eucharist for some time, we can nevertheless seek Him daily in prayer, in the people we encounter, and in the graces that he bestows on us.

In addition to this, we can also reflect that this Sunday’s readings remind us to be Ephphatha to the movement of the Holy Spirit within us. In the second reading, St James reminds us of the importance of discernment in our daily decisions, no doubt applicable again in our lives. Not only advising us not to judge others harshly, but also to discern our own actions. In today’s world, discernment is an important spiritual tool to assist us in making wise decisions which are in line with the will of God.

Subsequently, we also have the opening of our minds. With never ending lockdowns and frequent policy changes, we are reminded of Ephphatha in our way of thinking. The world and our way of life has been turned on its head. Since the start of 2020, there have been so many changes in the way we work, live, interact, and socialise. The new norms are still evolving. This includes being open to the necessity of vaccinations, wearing masks and maintaining social distancing to protect the least and littlest in our society.

Finally, there is also an Ephphatha of ourselves to receive. The pandemic has placed unprecedented stress on all of us, and Jesus reminds us, just as the deaf and mute man did, to be open to the help of others. It is “OK not to be OK”, and there is no shame in opening ourselves to receive help from others. In opening up to receive help from others, we allow others to serve, and thus fulfil the ministry of their vocation.

Therefore, this Sunday’s readings are an apt and gentle reminder from Jesus, not only for our pandemic times, but also in our daily lives. Let us always ask for the grace of Ephphatha in every aspect of our lives, to always be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit, the ability to recognise Jesus in everything, to be generous in all that we possess, and to ask for help when we need it. As the Prophet Isaiah says in the first reading, Ephphatha will bring joy in these difficult times; it will be like when “the water gushes forth in the desert, streams in the wasteland, the scorched earth becomes a lake, and the parched land springs of water”.

(Bro Lincoln Lee is a fourth year seminarian from the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur. He has concluded his philosophy studies at College General, Penang and is currently doing his pastoral year in the Church of the Divine Mercy, Shah Alam.)

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