September 10, 2000 23rd Sunday, "B"
H O M I L Y
Jesus spoke Aramaic and all the Gospels that we have are written in Greek (although Mark was originally written in Aramaic). But there are a very few instances in the Gospel where a word or an expression used by Jesus is reported in Aramaic even in the Greek text; no doubt because that expression had struck the listeners in a particular way. Apart from the cry on the Cross (lama, lama sabachtani), those instances are found in descriptions of healings operated by Jesus. We have to pay attention to them, because they tell us something that the rest of the text does not say.
If we read the English translation a bit distractedly, we just see that Jesus touched the tongue of the deaf and dumb man with saliva and put his fingers into his ears and said: "be opened"; and the man begin to hear and to speak correctly. So it seems that the tongue and the ears of the man obeyed Jesus' command "be opened". But let's have a second look at it. The Greek text does not give Jesus command in Greek but in Aramaic: Ephphata, which is a verb in the imperative mode, and in the singular form. So, the command is not addressed to the tongue and the ears, but to the person: "Be opened", in the singular form. It is the sick person that is called to open up. And when he is opened everything in him that is tied up and bound is released and freed. He is a free person again.
There are many other symbolic connections that are revealed by apparent contradictions of the text. The man begins to speak normally when his ears are opened. There is therefore a deep connection between hearing and speaking. A physical one, for sure, but also a symbolic and spiritual one. Speaking is an important form of communication between human being. (Not the only one; although our Western culture has privileged it to an utmost degree, to the detriment of many other forms of human communication). But communication means communion, it implies an exchange that goes in both direction. The one who does not listen does not communicate; and therefore he really does not speak. He simply produces vocal sounds. Interestingly enough our text does not exactly say that the man was mute, or dumb; it says that he had a speech impediment (he was mogilálos -- it is the only instance in the New Testament where that expression is used). He could not speak properly because he was not hearing. He was not hearing because he was not open. After he had received Jesus' command: "Be opened", he began both to hear properly and to speak properly.
Isaiah gives us a beautiful and very poetic description of the messianic kingdom, fulfilling the deeply rooted human aspiration of a return to the lost paradise where "Streams will burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe. The burning sands will become pools, and the thirsty ground, springs of water." This however will not happen as by magic. It will come when the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared, and the tongue of the dumb will sing. This in turn will happen when human being will be opened to one another and to God.
At one moment in history, humankind became totally open, in one person, Mary of Nazareth. And because she was totally open, she received the fullness of the Word of God. Her whole being was penetrated by it. Through her flesh and blood, as well as through the love of her heart, she gave birth to God.
Her Son himself was so radically open that he made himself totally vulnerable for us and to us; and his wounds have become the most precious channel of communication with us.
May this eucharistic celebration, in memory of Him, be both and expression and a source of our openness to him and to one another.