Today we have the account of Jesus healing the deaf man. Jesus healed the deaf man not just as a sign of the coming of the Messiah, as it certainly is, but as a sign of the love that God has for each of us. He heals us. The healing may be physical, or psychological, but it certainly is spiritual.
Maybe when he groaned, “Ephphatha,” which is Aramaic for, “Be opened,” he was talking about the man’s heart. Maybe he removed him from the crowd so that there would be no distraction. Maybe he was healing the man’s spiritual deafness as well as his physical deafness.
Sometimes we are down on ourselves. Our lives are not coming out the way we planned. Society sets standards of success. We feel shame. I am not good enough. People dress in a certain way, pretty themselves up, lose weight, build muscles and all for the sake of being loveable and so, hopefully, loved. God sees each of us for whom we are, beneath the bravado, beneath the illusions we create for others and for ourselves. He sees who we are beneath the material trappings of our lives. He sees beneath what the world has proclaimed as success, as prosperity. He sees our vulnerability and our desire to be accepted and belong.
But true prosperity is found in the account of the soul. God’s love is way different.
He wants to heal our spiritual deafness. Hear this truth Christ says to us. We are not, in any way, the reason God loves us. It is true that we can make ourselves more available and receptive to God’s love, but God is God. God is love. We do not dress up for the liturgy to win more love. We do not even do virtuous acts for that purpose. We dress up, do good deeds, because we are freely loved and we can’t do anything about that except receive it or reject it. It is always there!
Today’s second reading is part of a longer section of his letter devoted to social discrimination; in these verses, James addresses those who show favor to the rich and well dressed while treating the poor and shabbily clothed with disdain.
Partiality toward the wealthy and powerful is a common feature of any society. Honor and privilege are bestowed on the rich in exchange for their patronage and monetary support for communal projects. Of course, there is nothing wrong with showing gratitude and respect, but when a person is disrespected because of their dress or economic status, then that is prejudice, and James felt compelled to speak against it. So James tells the early Christians and us that we need to treat each other for who they are not for what they have. We need to extend to others the dignity that is their God given right.
St. James reminds us that we are to have the heart of Christ. James is a man of action. He's the one who boldly says faith without good works is dead. James recognizes that Christ never makes distinction of value on the lives of different persons. Christ exercised no favoritism and nor must we.
James asks the question of us; "do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?" If we decide that one person has more value than another we are not true believers is Jesus Christ.
There is an Italian proverb; “When the game is over, the king and the pawn go back in the same box.”
It is so very difficult not to make these distinctions and so easy to justify why we do. To judge. To prejudge. To have prejudice because of poverty, disease, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation is pervasive.
Christ evidently treasured the value of the person. He spent time with the tax collectors. He warmly welcomed as a disciple and close friend, Mary Magdalen. He related to the Roman Centurion. He touched lepers and all the sick and diseased. He valued the poor widow with her mite.
Much of the healing that Christ accomplished had nothing to do with the physical healing. It had to do with the healing of the dignity of people. Their society as we today blamed the victim. It was said they not only had to carry the cross but were responsible for it. We know they blamed illness on sin. That makes it so much easier on my conscience when I shun or fail to look them in the eye as a human being.
You see Christ is calling us to be that healing community today, by trying to lift the cross off of others when we can, but always by looking one another in the eye and saying through our love, “You have value and dignity just because you are a human being.” Embrace your vulnerability for what makes one vulnerable brings to light ones beauty and authenticity.
Jesus wants to open our ears and our hearts to this truth about ourselves and others. So give him the chance to do this for you! Let him take you away from the crowd of everyday life. Put aside the demands of your life for just a few minutes each day so that you can hear him speak to your heart. Let his voice melt any fears, anxieties, or doubts that burden you.
Last Saturday I baptized Felicity Hope Bello. In the Baptismal ritual the priest continues this sign of salvation when he repeats the blessing "Ephphatha! Be opened!" over the ears and mouth of the newly baptized child. We need to be open to challenges and surprises, to live with eyes open to God's wonders, ears open to God's wisdom, arms and hands open to hug and help and heal. The Lord is aware of those parts of us that are hurting. Maybe we are physically sick, we have a life threatening illness or one that is not life threatening but quite painful. Perhaps our sickness is psychological. Maybe we are fighting addictions, or low self esteem. Or perhaps we are fighting against our own tendencies to sin. The Lord is aware of our shame and struggle to embrace our vulnerability. The Lord is aware of whatever is afflicting us.
What a wonder-word it is - EPHPHATHA!" “May the Lord open our ears to truly hear the Gospel and our mouths to proclaim our faith to the glory of God the Father.”
Loving God, we ask you to hear the prayers we make through Jesus Christ, the Messiah, who lives with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Jesus,
take us away by ourselves, away from the crowd.
Please put your fingers into our deaf ears.
We long to hear your voice everywhere: in the crash of waves, the call of a friend, the cry of the poor.
And as you made the mute man speak touch our tongues with your grace.
Let us clearly announce the truth and wonder of the Word that you are.