THE TWELFTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY
And they brought unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech: and they beseech him to put his hand upon him. And he took him aside from the multitude and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue, and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. (Mk 7:34)
Of all the senses which God endowed Adam and Eve (taste, smell, touch, sight, and sound) the eye was most prominent in the garden. Moses records in the Book of Genesis that God walked in the Garden face to face with humanity. Adam and Eve enjoyed unhindered and unmediated fellowship with their Maker. Man, in his pre-fallen state, beheld God in innocence and purity of the Spirit. But it was with the eye which the woman saw the fruit and found it desirable. "And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat" (Gen 3:6).
And having given in to the sensual desire of the eyes, Adam and Eve fell. And they hid their faces from God... they literally turned their eyes from him in shame. They were naked and did not want to see God for fear of being seen by Him. "Where are you?" God called out to the man. While the eye took prominence in paradise, the ear became prominent as a result of the fall of man. This is why the great commandment sh' ma Yisrial- The Shema- given unto Israel is first meant for the ear: "Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One" (Dt 6:8). Hear O Israel! Because of their proclivity towards rebellion and sin, God's people were incapable of seeing Him face to face as Adam once had in the garden. You see, that which is fallen and corrupted simply cannot withstand the awesome holiness of God. The imperfect cannot look upon He who is complete perfection.
The Lord said to Moses, "you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live" (Ex 33:20). So the Lord graciously mediates his presence in a way in which he may still draw near to his people and they unto him. The Lord came to them hidden in a cloud, secluded on a mountain top. He met them under the outstretched wings of the cherubim which covered the bema seat in the tabernacle. Through the priesthood, he dealt with his people in the holy of holies, the place where God chose to reside with Israel. Sin rendered the eye impotent; men were no longer capable of beholding and gazing upon the being of salvation.
Not only are we incapable of seeing, but today's Gospel tells us that apart from Divine healing, neither can we hear nor speak. And let's carry this out a bit further: we struggle to reach out to God because we are impervious to the sensations of Divine Grace. The goodness of God is bitter to the taste of a sinful palate. In other words, every sensory gift is impaired: we are by sin closed towards the Divine reality. Is this not what St. Paul is getting at in speaking of the natural man? "The natural man," writes the Apostle, "receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor 2:14).
The communication of the Spirit is "foolishness" because, in every way, our capacity to perceive Him is closed. And it’s not just the sense organs from which this closure and isolation do not only depend. There is an inner closure that affects inmost self, which the Bible calls the “heart”. It is this that Jesus came to “open”, to liberate, so as to enable us to live to the full our relationship with God and with others. In one small word, the entirety of Christ’s mission can be summed up ephphatha — be thou opened.
The deaf mute man in today's Gospel is a picture of the closed self. In his debilitated state he didn't seek healing let alone seek for Messiah. St. Mark says the man was brought to the Lord Jesus Christ. In him, we see a picture of every person who by sin is closed off to Divine grace; wholly incapable of perceiving the presence of salvation. Friends, hear what incredible mercy our Lord bestows upon this miserable man, "And Jesus took him aside from the multitude and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue, and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened."
Christ ‘put His fingers into his ears, spit and touched his tongue.' These are symbolic actions, which it is easy to see why He should have employed in the case of one afflicted as this man was;--almost all other avenues of communication, save those of sight and feeling, were of necessity closed. Christ by these signs would awake his faith, and stir up in him the lively expectation of a blessing. The fingers are put into the ears to bore them, to pierce through the obstacles which hindered sounds from reaching the seat of hearing.
This was the fount of evil. You see, the deaf man did not speak plainly because he could not hear; so Jesus first removes this defect. Then, as often through excessive dryness the tongue cleaves to the roof of the mouth, the Lord gives, in what He does next, the sign of the removal of this evil, of the unloosing of the tongue. And, at the same time, He shows the Divine virtue of healing to reside in His own body. You see, Jesus doesn't look for it from any other quarter; but with the moisture of His own mouth upon His finger touches the tongue, releasing the man from the bands which held it fast. It is not for its medicinal virtue that Jesus makes use of his own saliva, but as the Divine symbol of a power residing in, and going forth from His body. For the necessary and real healing of the closed self only comes from the broken body of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now the man hears. Therefore, he speaks the praises of God.
Therefore, salvation now comes by hearing. It is by listening that we are saved. And this we learn from the Apostle Paul who, in writing to the church in Rome, asks, "How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?" We are not saved by sight, for Jesus himself said, "If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'" Our ears have been opened to the salvation of the soul; to us have been given ears to hear.
But it is the eye that beholds the totality of Christ, to the eyes that the Transcendent Christ is seen and apprehended in the fullest sense. Take the encounter the disciples had with the risen Christ on the Emmaus road. For hours the resurrected Christ walks and speaks with these two disciples who are confounded that he had no clue of the recent events that had taken place in Jerusalem and at Golgotha, "are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?" Cleopas asks. Jesus then goes on to interpret the Scriptures for them, telling them the things concerning himself. And yet, in hearing, they do not come to the revelation of who their traveling companion truly is.
Their eyes remained closed until the breaking of the bread. St. Luke writes, "When Jesus was at table with the, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him." The transcendent God was made known to closed-off human beings through bread: a material mediator. In the breaking of the bread, they saw Christ, beheld him in all of his glory; and then, Luke writes, "Jesus vanished." Our glimpses of Christ on this side of eternity are just that, glimpses, previews of that future happy day when we will be raised from the dead; made perfect; face to face with our Lord Jesus Christ. Our site restored to perpetually gaze upon all that is beautiful, good, and true: Transcendence in the flesh, Jesus, who will never leave us but will forever be united with us.
You see where Christ is, there we too shall be if we are a faithful and spotless bride. The reward of a life lived open to God is to finally obtain our beloved Bridegroom. Forever enjoying eternal happiness and blessing, the beatific life fully realized in eternity with Christ. With our speech no longer impaired we too shall sing the Song of Songs, "My beloved has gone down to his garden, to the beds of spices, to graze in the gardens and to gather lilies. I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine; he grazes among the lilies" (Song 6:2). A life open to Christ leads back to the garden. And there, we receive the kisses of his mouth.
Christ is not up there and we down here; he is with us, with his creation, in time and space, "Christ is all and in all" proclaims the Apostle! He is present through his Spirit, communicating his love and goodness through the mediation of his good creation. You see the creation and all that we hear, touch, smell, taste, and see are Divine gifts given to lead us into the holy presence of the transcendent God. And so the psalmist sings, "O taste and see that the Lord is Good." Christ is the totality of the beatific vision, and in some mysterious way, he is already present in our lives to the degree that we live in sync with the final end for which God has created us: to be in union with him: once again walking unhindered with him in the garden of blessing.
It is through the everyday interactions of life and particularly in sabbath worship and the sacrament of Holy Communion that the Holy Spirit is habituating us to see God in the here and now. And although we may conceive of the beatific vision as a future "end of this age" event, its reality must become present in our daily lives. Today, and tomorrow, and tomorrow... must not be shaped by the purely natural, that which is merely seen, or by some scientific scheme of cause and effect. Instead, the ultimate aim of the beatific vision must determine our immediate priorities and reform our desire unto holiness.
The earliest disciples of the Apostles, men like Polycarp, Irenaeus, Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine of Hippo, and many other saints saw transcendence in the created world, or rather, the created world revealed transcendence to them. And it was a longing to see Christ- the truly transcendent one- for whom their prayer, worship, and holy living, fueled a transcendent life lived in the present but always in the company of future hope. A future and eternal seventh-day happiness, an eternal sabbath lived face to face in the presence and rest of Christ. They lived as those to whom Jesus himself spoke Ephphatha: be thou opened.
And we who once could not hear let alone speak the praises of God, having been healed by Divine charity, must open every aspect of ourselves: every thought, word, and deed to the demands and duties of the Gospel. The greatest good is to live openly before the God of our salvation: at peace with He whom, we have seen (though dimly), whom we have held (though imperfectly). The Lord Jesus Christ. He comes to you today in the bread and the wine. Do not close your heart, your ears, your eyes, nor your mouth. See his goodness. Taste his mercy. Hear the wooing call of Christ who says, "feed on me that you may have life today and forever." And then, beloved, open your mouth and speak the praises of Him who loved you even to the point of death. Amen+