Sunday reflection by Very Reverend Stephen Salocks, Rector of Saint John's Seminary - 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 5, 2021
On this Twenty-third Sunday of the Year, we hear the prophet Isaiah speaking a word of hope and exhorting God’s people to “Be strong and fear not,” and foretelling the day when God will bring forth vindication, salvation, and healing. Isaiah spoke to frightened and disappointed people in exile and, recalling God’s care for His people in their Exodus from Egypt, spoke of a new exodus and liberation in terms of healing those who were blind, lame and mute, and even those who had died. Delivered and saved by God, the people would find their way home and return to their own land. Their relationship with God and one another would be restored.
In today’s Gospel, Isaiah’s prophecy regarding God’s salvation finds fulfillment. We want to notice how the description of Jesus’ personal care and gestures all heighten the sense of the powerful healing action. Giving the man his whole attention, Jesus takes him away from the noise of the crowd. Jesus’ focus is entirely on the man, and, once the man’s hearing is restored, he will be able to hear and focus first of all on Jesus. Jesus’ healing of the man is intimate and personal. This is the kind of attention and care that Jesus gives to his disciples in Mark’s Gospel, even when they struggle to hear and understand him. The healing of the deaf man offers hope that the disciples too will be able to hear and respond to God’s word, and then clearly proclaim the gospel. This is the kind of restoration that would be given by the Holy Spirit to Jesus’ disciples at Pentecost.
The Gospel passage is rich and much more could be said about it. I believe that the one word of God that we want to hear and respond to today is Ephphatha! - “Be Opened!” As difficult as it might be to pronounce, it is a word sown into our Christian identity. All of us had this word spoken to us on the day we were baptized: “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb 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.” Having been clothed in the light and life of Christ, we receive our life-long mission as his disciples.
The ancient word, Ephphatha, also means to “be released,” and that gives us insight into the larger scope of what Jesus was doing that day in the district of the Decapolis. For the man healed of his deafness, he was not only released from his infirmity but also released from his isolation from the community and even alienation from God. Now he was able not only to interact and relate with family and community, but also to hear and respond to our Lord and to proclaim God’s praise. In saying “Be opened/be released,” Jesus was speaking to the man born deaf and to his disciples both then and now. Jesus was speaking and caring for us all especially when we struggle to hear God's Word and to proclaim his presence in our world and in our lives.
In these late days of summer and early days of autumn, when schools open and students of all ages head for the classroom, we pray that Jesus’ healing and caring love may with us all. With his healing and protection, may we listen more closely to God’s call and trust in God’s care. With ears, eyes and hearts open to the Gospel, may we be open to ways of sharing the good news with others!