Ephphatha (Day 23 of A Simple Lent)
Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’
The daily lectionary actually carved up one of the most challenging moments in Jesus’s ministry, in which, giving us the conclusion today before moving on to one of the seemingly most typical.
In the verses right before this morning’s, we had a woman coming to Jesus for help and be rejected. It doesn’t say why Jesus is so closed to helping her. He just sort of brushes her off as insignificant. The only thing the text gives us to go on is that she isn’t Jewish.
This isn’t the first time the prospect of helping a non-Jew has arisen. But his response is less “I can’t help you” and more “why should I?”
I’m not sold that we can be sure of what is happening here or what Jesus is intending; he’s being pretty cryptic. But he rejects her. And says that Jews should be served first.
And her response amounts to I’m not looking to be served first, I’m looking to get at least what you’d feed your dog.
For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.
Jesus helps her. Maybe he called her a dog. It is hard to say, but it does sound like Jesus is not only being a little racist, but a little nationalistic. His response has a little of the we only help our people kind of vibe.
This strange encounter of Jesus being so closed off is immediately juxtaposed against this powerful moment of healing in which Jesus literally shoves his fingers in a man’s ears and grabs his tongue. This isn’t a long-distance healing by proxy like the Syrophoenician woman of the preceding verses, this is touching and spitting and sighing and speaking an Aramaic word: Ephphatha, “be opened”.
Mark never gets enough credit as a writer. This kind of storytelling is potent and revealing of theme and priority of the gospel. I like to think that even Jesus is closed off and in need of Ephphatha. That he gives this man the same opening to new possibility that he received from this bold woman who confronted him.
Open Our Eyes
One of my favorite parts of any Eucharistic Prayer can be found in Prayer C in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. It’s right in the middle.
And when you read it from the altar book, the prayer is broken up like a poem in which each line is to be read as a single statement. So when I read it out loud, I give a half pause at the end of each line like I was taught to read poetry in performance. We can see the line breaks as isolating each important piece.
So in the midst of this prayer to GOD for the blessing of the community and our communion together, we see this sequence:
Lord God of our Fathers:
God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob;
God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ:
Open our eyes
to see your hand at work in the world about us.
And every time I pray this I give that small line the space it needs:
Open our eyes!
Help us to see! Open us! Help us! Say Ephphatha! That we might be opened!
May you be opened! May you see!
Daily Office Readings
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This week’s homework is to find how to best embody a life of vocation.
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