Patrick was a remarkable itinerant preacher who lived in my hometown, Uli. Though blind and illiterate, Patrick surmounted his disability by memorizing large portions of the Bible and employed accurate scripture references to garnish his sermons. As a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, he went from house to house, led by his little boy, to preach. He would usually pretend that he could read by flipping the pages of scripture as he invited listeners to hear what God says in his favorite scripture passage of John 3:16. I remember my aunt telling Patrick, on one occasion: “You see Pat, you’re holding the Bible upside down, and you’re in fact looking at Exodus, not John.” Patrick’s answer to her was, “I was blind but now I see,” in testimony to his belief that, in Christ, seeing and hearing are not limited to the physical senses of sight and sound.
Hence, today’s gospel has important lessons more profound than the mere physical opening of eyes or ears or tongue. “Ephphatha”—“Be Opened” reveals to us God’s amazing power to open, free, and transform our lives. Before healing the deaf man, Jesus took him far from the frantic crowd. He wants us also away from the stuff with which we have crowded our lives—TV, loud music, videogame, unholy hours on the phone discussing and gossiping about other people, hours upon hours texting, twitting and Facebooking, and ‘Satan-anointed hours’ on the internet viewing indecent materials. We need to distance ourselves at times from the masses and the mass-media because healing encounters with Jesus happen in the intimacy of our hearts and within the Christian community. The other actions of Jesus—putting his finger into the man’s ears, spitting, touching his tongue, looking up to heaven and sighing are all liturgical formulas invoked in the sacraments of the Church, especially Baptism and Anointing.
Ephphatha—Be opened tells what needs to be taking place in our heart, soul, and mind. Do you wonder what you have closed yourself from; what needs to be opened in your life? Imagine if our minds were open in such a way that all our biases and prejudices melted away. Imagine if our eyes could be opened to see God’s goodness in the creatures he has made and in every human person. Imagine if we were truly open to new ideas realizing that our ways of looking at things are not always right and that we can learn something from just about everyone. Imagine if we could be freed from our fears, enabling us to step into the unknown and experience life to its fullest. It was intriguing for me when I read from a scripture scholar that the expression “Do not be afraid” appears 365 times in the Bible, meaning that each day we can open our ears and hearts and hear God telling us not to be afraid.
To become intentional Catholics we must not be afraid to stand up for our faith and openly profess what we believe. We probably have seen many times in our relationship with family, friends, and coworkers that when we talk about God we are made to feel as if we had said something wrong. We feel as if we have wronged somebody and may need to apologize. And we ask: “What did I say to make these people react this way, to anger them or make them attack me?” We are becoming increasingly conscious of the fact that we live side by side people who want to remain deaf to the sound of God’s name and who have their backs turned against God. Throughout our history, Christians have been looked down on, contradicted and persecuted for proclaiming their faith. Our age is not different. As opposition to Christ grows, Christians should match it with their love for one another and even for their oppressors. St. James admonishes us to treat each other with respect and true love; no favoritism, no discrimination, no bitter words even to those who hate us. At Calvary, love won against favoritism, discrimination, and opposition to God. Love always wins!
Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo