Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
Ephphata means ‘Be opened’. When we are baptized, there is a good chance the priest made the sight of the cross on our ears and our lips and uttered the word “Ephphata”, a prayer that our ears be opened to hear the word of God and our mouths be opened to speak the word of God. It is a commission given to every Christian from the moment of baptism, and not some special call a few people receive later in life.
But for the ears to be opened, and subsequently the mouth, (although many of us open our mouths before opening our ears) the heart needs to be opened first. And that is a little difficult because, as the prophet Ezekiel famously declared, our hearts are like stone (see Ezekiel 36:26). Fortunately, God changes these to hearts of flesh, but it might be interesting — and illuminating — to note what hearts of stone are like.
One, they are cold. Have you ever stepped off your bed onto a cold marble floor? And then traipsed across the room to wash your face barefoot? It is not a pleasant experience. Our hearts are like that cold floor incapable of touching anyone else’s heart, to draw them to you, much less to Jesus.
Two, they are hard. Nothing penetrates them; nothing breaks them. I have spoken to thousands of people over the years, and while many receive the word with much eagerness, consequently experiencing a tremendous transformation, there are some who are untouched by it. Jesus talks about such men in his parable of the sower. And such hearts are impervious to softening even by time. Stones in the earth might eventually be subdued, but not the stony hearts of men.
Three, they are dead. Like the zombies in The Walking Dead, they stumble through life, devouring the living that come in their path, with vacant eyes and empty souls. Nothing reaches them; nothing touches them. Like the iron throne in the Game of Thrones, Satan sits upon our hearts and rules. So what hope then? One word: Jesus. Ezekiel says that God will take away these hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh, but that is possible only through Jesus.
Jesus and the salvation he brings is the free gift of God. If we accept him, grace continues to flow turning our hard, stony, and dead hearts into hearts beating with love. And, then, open those mouths and start talking. Ephphata. Be opened.
September 09, 2018 - Ephphata - A Reflection on Mark 7:31-37 (Sunday)
February 15, 2019 - Be Opened - A Reflection on Mark 7:31-37 (Friday)