Read Sermon


"Be opened!"


14 August 2005 11:00 | Fr John Cullen

NT: 2 Corinthians 3.4-9; Gospel: Mark 7.31-37 (Pr 18, YrB)

We're often tempted to say it; but I suggest it's always a mistake to say to someone, "Yes, I understand, I know exactly how you feel!" We may think we've had a similar experience, but we can never know exactly how someone else feels in any given situation. And when it comes to our human faculties, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to imagine what it would be like to be without sight, or hearing, or the capacity to speak. So I have no idea what life would have been like for someone described as "deaf" and with "an impediment in his speech", like the man in this morning's Gospel.

What we do know, however, is that in first century Palestine, where sickness and disability were associated with sin or possession by spirits, people with any disability were regarded as lacking that wholeness, shalom, which was necessary in order to be regarded as a full Israelite. So the man brought to Jesus was not only 'cut off' by his disabilities from usual communication with others, he was also 'shut out' from full participation in the life of his natural community.

This will help us appreciate the full significance of his encounter with Jesus; and it also enables us to understand the reaction of the bystanders. For St Mark wants us to see in this incident more than just the healing of a man's deafness and difficulty in speaking.

In this story Mark is telling us that in Jesus, the former carpenter from Nazareth, the roving teacher, the healer, in this man, the very reign of God has come; that reign to which the prophets of old looked forward, when God's kingdom would come on earth.

As Isaiah had written:
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
'Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God…
He will come and save you.'
Then… the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped…
and the tongue of those who stammer shall be loosed.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert… (Isaiah 35.4-6)
… words which Mark puts into the mouths of the friends of the man in whom these words were fulfilled. And to underline this connection, this coming about of the reign of God in Jesus, Mark gives us a further clue in his choice of the word for 'speech impediment': it is the very same word translated 'stammer', in Isaiah's prophecy - the only other place that particular word appears in the whole Bible.

So, Mark is saying, the new age to which Isaiah and the other prophets looked forward has now arrived. In Jesus, the Word made flesh, in this healer standing before us, God has come among us. So the crowd echoes: "He hath done all things well." The original goodness of creation is being restored, the day of salvation has dawned. And a further sign of this new age is the breaking down of the old barriers which excluded people from their rightful place as children of God: by this healing, this man is restored among the people of God.

So Jesus' dramatic command, Ephphatha, "Be opened!" is not just said to unstop the ears of the deaf man, and to release his tongue. It is also a word of command to all those standing by, and to those of us here this morning who stood a few moments ago as the gospel was being read, as it were to join the same crowd. Jesus calls each one of us to "Be opened!" to allow God's saving activity loose in our lives, to allow God to unstop our ears to hear his good news, and to release our tongues to respond accordingly.

This story is set in Mark's Gospel in the context of a sequence of events which heighten its effect and underline its message even further. On one side of the story Mark records an event which illustrates the 'deafness' of the intransigent Pharisees; and it is followed up by an incident which shows up the 'deafness' of the dull-witted disciples who, as so often simply don't seem to understand what Jesus is getting at. So Mark is warning us that deafness is not just a problem for the physically, congenitally 'deaf'. There is a deafness which can afflict us all, a deafness from which we all need to be healed; a deafness that can also hinder our communication with one another. We may not know what it is to be physically deaf, or to be literally tongue-tied; but there are many ways in which we can be shut up or closed off, and that is to be as good as dead. To be 'opened' is to be alive; it is to be in communication; it is to be restored among the children of God. No wonder 'the more he charged them to tell no one, so much the more a great deal they published it'!
Cookies used on this website
New EU legislation requires that all web sites clearly specify the presence of cookies and their purpose. Cookies are used to enhance the user experience. StGeorges uses Google Analytics to track activity on its site, helping to keep the site relevant and easier to use, via the use of these cookies . For an enhanced site experience, consumers will need to consent to the use of StGeorges cookies. A preference cookie, that will become available to you when you choose the ‘I agree’ button, will be a long-life cookie that will not automatically clear when you close the browser window. If you manually delete this cookie you will need to re-confirm your preferences every time you next visit this website, unless you choose accept the long life option.