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Fr. Michael's Thoughts on Biblical Imagery: Ephphatha


(Fr Michael Boakye Yeboah: Vice Rector of St Gregory Seminary, Kumasi-Ghana)


One of the touching rites during the Christian initiation of baptism is Ephphatha. The priests normally touch the ears of candidate and says: “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.” By the power of its symbolism the ephphatha rite, or rite of opening the ears and mouth, impress on the elect their need of grace in order that they may hear the word of God and profess it for their salvation.

I remember while in Rome the insightful reflection given by Pope Benedict XVI on this ephphatha text (Mark 7:31-37). The Holy Father said: “…One word sums up the mission of Jesus Christ "Ephphatha," which is Aramaic for "be opened." In his reflection on Sunday's Gospel (Mark 7:31-37), Pope Benedict said 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.’ For this reason, Jesus’ words and actions recounted in Sunday’s Gospel are re-enacted during the Rite of Baptism.” The Pontiff’s address is a fruitful meditation on Jesus’ own words to each one of us, and our common call as baptized disciples of Christ.

According some scripture experts, the healing of a deaf-mute by Jesus clearly has to do with more than physical disability. It is a parable for the people of Israel who, in turn, represent all of mankind. As the prophets have said so often, Israel is hard of hearing when it comes to the Word of God, which, in turn, renders it incapable of giving a valid response. Jesus does not make a spectacle out of his miracles. Hence he takes the sick man aside, seeking the middle line between entirely avoiding publicity and helping the people. Physically touching both ears and tongue precedes his upward look toward the Father (in this miracle the Father acts through him) and his sigh, which probably points to his having been filled with the Holy Spirit. This trinitarian fullness indicates that the prayer “Be opened!” speaks not only of physical healing but of effective grace for Israel and for all mankind.

When, at the end of the Gospel, people say with astonishment: “He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak”, this is almost an exact quotation from the first reading, taken from Isaiah. “The ears of the deaf are open again, the tongue of the dumb breaks forth in song.” This is something that has to do with the majority, for the Lord’s promises are directed toward the entire people. When the text subsequently refers to streams opening up in the wilderness and to rivers in the steppe, this shows that here the physical healings signify more than merely a physician’s action – they indicate a transformation of all of nature by the approach of the judging and redeeming God. The approach of salvation is depicted as an eschatological event: as Revelation will say, “The old order has passed away, behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:1-5).

In the second reading, the transformation takes the form of economic transformation; whereby the poor is given hope. Today’s readings offer a lot of hope, it is my prayer that those who seek the Lord in these ways will get their prayers answered in Jesus Name.


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