23 Sunday B

From the Connections:

Ephphatha “Be opened!”
Isaiah’s vision of a Messiah who would come with hope and healing (today’s first reading) is realized in this episode from Mark’s Gospel: the deaf hear, the silent are given voice, the lame “leap like a stag.”  The exhortation Ephphatha! is not only addressed to the man born deaf but to his disciples both then and now who fail to hear and see and speak the presence of God in their very midst.
The Aramaic phrase ephphatha literally means “be released” – Jesus “releases” the man not only from his disability but from his sins, his isolation from the community, his alienation from God.
Jesus’ curing of the deaf man with spittle (which, in Jesus’ time, was considered curative) is an act of re-creation.  God’s reign is present in human history in the extraordinary ministry of Jesus.  Throughout Mark’s Gospel, Jesus insists that his healings be kept quiet in order that his full identity be revealed and understood only in the light of his cross and resurrection.

Jesus restores the deaf man’s hearing with the word Ephphatha – “Be opened!”  We, too, can bring healing and life to those who need the support, the affirmation, the sense of loving and being loved that the simple act of listening can give.
In times of grief, despair and failure, we can be “deaf” to the presence of God in the love and compassion of others; or we can become so preoccupied with the noise and clamor of the marketplace that we are unable to hear the voices of those we love and who love us.
Jesus not just cures the man with a fleeting word but, by his touch, he enters into the grit and grime, the struggle and pain of the man’s life and, in doing so, brings hope and healing to the man.

Listening ‘funny’ . . .
A mother was planning a birthday party for her six-year-old son.  She wanted to protect him from the social consequences of inviting Jason, an unpopular child, to the party.  Jason stuttered, so he was constantly teased, often cruelly.
But Mom realized that her son had to make the decision on his own.
Mom was pleasantly surprised to discover that her son not only could take care of himself but also stick up for his friend.
When other boys at the party started making fun of Jason, her son confronted them, saying:  “He doesn't talk funny.  You listen funny.”
[Kathleen Chesto.]
We often listen "funny."  Fear and ignorance often distort our ability not only to hear but also to see the good in the midst of bad, the reasons to hope in the midst of despair.  The words Jesus speaks to the deaf man in today's Gospel – “Ephphatha” -- are spoken to us, as well: that our hearts and spirits be “opened” to accepting God's love from those who are “different” and “uncool”; that our hearts and spirits be “opened” to realizing God's presence in times and places that make us squirm; that our hearts and spirits be “opened” to realizing God's grace despite our difficulty to trust, to accept, to understand.


We have come to associate the good news of salvation with something that is going to take place in the distant future, as something purely spiritual. But Scripture pictures salvation in more realistic and physical terms. In today's first reading Isaiah reminds the people that God will save them and they will experience tangible signs of his power and loving care for them. The message of the prophet is loud and clear to all who believe in God. We may be living in difficult times, we may be faced with uncertainty. What is God saying to us? His promise is not something for the distant future but will be realized right now. He is coming to save us and He will give us signs of his presence. Are we open to His touch? Can we believe that His hand is there in all that is happening to us today? "Be open!"

She was both deaf and blind

We all know Helen Keller, whose story we read or watched in the play or movie 'The Miracle Worker'. Helen wrote in her autobiography the key experience in her life: "The most important day I remember in all my life is the one in which my teacher, Annie Mansfield Sullivan, came to me. I stretched out my hand as I supposed it to be my mother. But someone took it, and I was caught up and held close in the arms of someone who had come to reveal all things to me, and more than all else to love me." Annie Sullivan did give the child enormous love, but she also gave her firm and, at times, violent discipline. Annie's combination of very tender and warm love and very stern and uncompromising discipline touched this child deeply and made her into a human being and a very great one at that. Even a cynical soul as Mark Twain, who got to know Helen Keller, reckoned her as one of the most interesting figures in the nineteenth century, because she had conquered her own physical limitations to become a beautiful and noble lady.
William Bausch in 'Telling Stories, Compelling Stories'

In today's Gospel we see Jesus dealing with the man who was deaf and dumb and we can receive many insights for our own life from contemplating the scene. Firstly, we are reminded that the man was brought to Jesus by others who implored Jesus to lay his hand on him. There are times when we cannot help ourselves and we need others to bring us to Jesus. When we come across people who are hurting and helpless, we need to bring them to Jesus. Secondly, we are told that the man was deaf and also had an impediment in his speech. We might say that we have no such problem, we can hear well and we have no problem speaking. But have we no problem? Can we really hear? Can we hear what people are trying to say to us? Can we hear what the situation we are in, is saying to us? Can we hear what God is saying to us? In Jesus' response to the man who was brought for healing, we see the compassionate love and care of Jesus for him and for all who need his healing touch. The gospel tells us that Jesus took him aside from the crowd. He deals with him on a personal level on a one-to-one basis. Jesus spends time alone with him, and touches him putting his fingers into his ears and spittle on his tongue. Jesus could have healed him from a distance but he draws close to him and gets involved with him and touches him and looking up to heaven, as if to remind all that His power comes from on high, He says: "Be opened!", and the man was healed and he could hear and speak. He ordered the crowd to tell no one about it because he does not want them to come to him just to witness miracles but to come with faith for the touch of love, the touch of the Master's Hand, that is often felt in hidden, unobtrusive yet loving ways.

The Touch of the Master's Hand

There is a poem by Myra Brook Welch called 'Touch of the Master’s Hand'. In this poem she tells the story of an old dusty violin being auctioned. The violin is about to be sold for a mere $3 when a grey-haired man steps forward, picks it up, dusts it off and begins to play. The man plays such sweet music on the violin that when he finishes, the bidding jumps into thousands of dollars. What changed its value? What transformed the dusty old violin into a precious instrument? -the Touch of the Master's Hand. 'And many a man with life out of tune, and battered and scarred with sin, is auctioned cheap, to the thoughtless crowd, much like the old violin. But the Master comes and the foolish crowd never can understand the worth of a soul, and the change that's wrought by the Touch of the Master's Hand.'
Albert Cylwicki in 'His Word Resounds'

Be very careful of what you speak

A woman went to confession and confessed that she had been gossiping about others. As her penance, the priest told her to go to the market, buy an unplucked hen, and, on her way home, she was to pluck the hen, feather by feather, and let each feather be carried off by the wind. She did that, and returned to the priest. He praised her for her obedience, and he said "Now, there's one more thing to do. I want you to go back along the road, and pick up every feather belonging to that hen." The woman was dumb founded. The task was impossible. By now, the wind had scattered those feathers miles away, out across the country. "Exactly", said the priest. "Now you see what happens as a result of your gossiping. It is impossible to call the words back, once you sent them on their way. Be very very careful what you speak, and especially what you gossip. It is almost impossible to repair the damage."
Jack McArdle in 'And that's the Gospel truth!'

When Jesus enters…

A working man was strongly drawn towards a beautiful vase he saw in a stall down in the town market. He bought the vase and brought it home. The vase was so beautiful that it made his front room look drab, dull, and indeed plain ugly. So he got bright paints and transformed the whole house. He got colourful curtains to match the paint, a brightly patterned carpet, and he even stripped down and varnished the furniture. Because of the beauty of the vase the whole room was transformed. - When Jesus enters my heart, the areas in need of attention become, oh, so obvious. Holiness consists in discovering that I am a much bigger sinner than I ever thought I was! The closer I come to God the more obvious the contrast!  When Jesus comes, his touch, his presence makes all the difference!
Jack McArdle in 'More stories for Preachers and Teachers'


1)    "I want to be alone."

 That was the famous declaration made by the early Swedish film star and glamour girl Greta Garbo (1905-1990). But it was that declaration that jinxed her search for solitude. A vast cast of has-been, over-the-hill actors and actresses struggled to stay in focus but swiftly faded out of the limelight and into obscurity. But Garbo, by her very insistence on alone-time, was hounded by media hangers-on until her death in 1990. To get a picture of Greta Garbo remained a paparazzi "holy grail" throughout her life.

We are more alone and less alone these days than ever before. Humans have always lived in communities, in tribes, in families - for protection, for food, for companionship, for love. In the twenty-first century urban living is the norm, with large populations of people gathered around a commercial/communal core. But even as we live lives more closely packed, we are more solitary. Education and economics have made it possible for more people to "make it" on their own. What for centuries had been the culturally and economically determined "norm" - to marry and produce a family in order to survive - is no longer viewed as a necessity. In America, the new norm is singledom. Half of all adults are unmarried, and 15% of those singles live by themselves. In Scandinavia it is estimated that by 2020 half of all "households" will be occupied by only one individual.

But singledom does not mean we are alone...
 2)    Persistent Attention

 In Keeping Pace, Ernest Fitzgerald relayed the true story of a magazine company which several years ago purchased a new computer. Its function was to compile data and send out subscription notices to customers whose subscriptions had lapsed. One day something went wrong with the machine, and before the error was discovered (about a month later), a certain rancher in Colorado had received 9,374 notices that his subscription had expired. Someone in the magazine office posted the letter the company received from him. Inside was a check for one year's subscription along with a handwritten note saying: "I give up! Send me the magazine." He was won over by their consistent, persistent attention.

That's what still wins people over to Christ. It's the consistent witness we live before them: the kindness and gentility that are consistently evident, the willingness to listen without judging and to help without expecting something in return, the smile that's always there, the warm hug or handshake that we can count on, the friendship that doesn't blow hot and cold, the faith that is evident in good times and other times, as well. We articulate Christ's presence and power most effectively not with eloquent words but rather with a steady, faithful Christian life that others can see and believe in.

 Michael B. Brown, Be All That You Can Be, CSS Publishing Company

 3)    A Model of Faith

 It may come as a shock to most Christians today, but we would do better to use this woman as a model of faith even more than the disciples. After all, we are neither Jewish nor Galilean; we have no familial claim or geographical claim to Jesus.

While the woman learns that the power of faith lies internally, the disciples learn that faith can't be measured by proximity to Jesus. They are right next to the Lord and yet they see the woman as a bother. They don't lead her to Jesus or attempt to heal her daughter, her faith does that. They are too blinded by their social and religious prejudice to offer miracles to anyone.

Jesus words are obviously not meant to cut down the woman (her compassion runs too deep to care if she is insulted). The words of Christ are meant to reprimand the disciples-and us-when our politics and religious agenda blind us to compassion.

Which faith most resembles mine? Am I like the cocksure disciples steeped in religious and cultural prejudice, deeply self-assured of my proximity to Jesus? Or, am I like the outcast woman of Lebanon, indentured by compassion and uncaring of insults if I can just save one soul?

Jerry Goebel, Even the Dogs


4)    Miraculous Healing

 I have a friend who is a surgeon and a committed Christian. He is the physician who took care of me when I had a snow blower accident and needed surgery on two fingers. During one of the surgeries (all done with local anesthetic), I asked, "Don, do you believe in divine healing?"  "Is there any other kind?" he responded.

 Good point, but what I really wanted to know was whether he believed in what we would call miraculous healing, so I asked, "Actually, I wanted to know if you believe in miraculous healing."  "Yes," he answered in a matter of fact way, "Why do you ask? Do you want me to stop the surgery?"  John Jewell, What About Healing?


5)    The Buzzard, the Bat, and the Bumblebee

 If you put a buzzard in a pen that is 6 feet by 8 feet and is entirely open at the top, the bird, in spite of its ability to fly, will be an absolute prisoner. The reason is that a buzzard always begins a flight from the ground with a run of 10 to 12 feet. Without space to run, as is its habit, it will not even attempt to fly, but will remain a prisoner for life in a small jail with no top.   The ordinary bat that flies around at night, a remarkable nimble creature in the air, cannot take off from a level place. If it is placed on the floor or flat ground, all it can do is shuffle about helplessly and, no doubt, painfully, until it reaches some slight elevation from which it can throw itself into the air. Then, at once, it takes off like a flash.

A bumblebee, if dropped into an open tumbler, will be there until it dies, unless it is taken out. It never sees the means of escape at the top, but persists in trying to find some way out through the sides near the bottom. It will seek a way where none exists, until it completely destroys itself.

In many ways, we are like the buzzard, the bat, and the bumblebee. We struggle about with all our problems and frustrations, never realizing that all we have to do is look up! That's the answer, the escape route and the solution to any problem! Just look up.

 Source Unknown


 6)    Quiet Time Is for Listening

 There was a fifth grade teacher who decided that she would use this listening process with her children. Every morning for five minutes she required them to be totally quiet. That's hard for any of us to do, much less a fifth grader. She discovered that a great deal of good came from the experience of silence. After one of these quiet times she asked the students if they had heard anything. One boy said: Yes, I heard something say that I should be more obedient to my parents. Another said: I heard something say that you should always be fair: When you are tagged and nobody sees it you are still out. There is no substitute for listening.



 7)    The Friendship Mirror

A psychologist friend of mine once developed a personal growth seminar entitled, The Friendship Mirror. It began with an exercise in which you were asked to write down the names of ten people you consider to be friends - people you enjoy being with ... people you like ... people you feel most comfortable relating to. Then he'd ask you to describe them in terms of their age, race, height, weight, education, views, whether they're married or single, with children or not. When you finished, what you found was a striking similarity between the people you like the best and ... are you ready for this? Yourself!

 Surprise! We tend to identify most easily with those people who are like us. "Birds of a feather flock together," they say. Which is nothing new, of course, but it's something we do well to be reminded of, from time to time, for to grow up is to grow out and to mature in faith is to widen your circle to include those who don't just mirror your image, but challenge you to think and act in new ways.

 Philip W. McLarty, The Boundaries of the Kingdom


8)    Believing in Jesus: Erasing Boundaries

 If we believe in Jesus, we know the boundaries are erased inside and out, life's for us all. Fred Craddock tells the story of a missionary sent to preach the gospel in India near the end of World War II. After many months the time came for a furlough back home. His church wired him the money to book passage on a steamer but when he got to the port city he discovered a boat load of Jews had just been allowed to land temporarily. These were the days when European Jews were sailing all over the world literally looking for a place to live, and these particular Jews were staying in attics and warehouses and basements all over that port city.

It happened to be Christmas, and on Christmas morning, this missionary went to one of the attics where scores of Jews were staying. He walked in and said, "Merry Christmas." The people looked at him like he was crazy and responded, "We're Jews." "I know that," said the missionary, "What would you like for Christmas?" In utter amazement the Jews responded, "Why we'd like pastries, good pastries like the ones we used to have in Germany." So the missionary went out and used the money for his ticket home to buy pastries for all the Jews he could find staying in the port. Of course, then he had to wire home asking for more money to book his passage back to the States.

As you might expect, his superiors wired back asking what happened to the money they had already sent. He wired that he had used it to buy Christmas pastries for some Jews. His superiors wired back, "Why did you do that? They don't even believe in Jesus." He wired back: "Yes, but I do."

David Reynolds, Crossing Boundaries


 9)    The Sermon Title

 Generations of preachers at Princeton Seminary were schooled in their homiletical skills by Dr. Donald Macleod. Among the points Dr. Macleod would make during the semester was the importance of choosing a compelling sermon title. In fact, he asked students to give their sermon title before beginning each sermon.

He used to tell of Mrs. O'Leary who would hop on the Fifth Avenue bus on Sunday morning in Manhattan and pass the great churches along that thoroughfare. As the bus would approach each church, she would eye the sign in front with the sermon title and decided, on the basis of what she read, whether to get off the bus and attend that church. Dr. Macleod's constant refrain was, "Pick a title that will make Mrs. O'Leary get off the bus."
10)  Ice Skating

 Once upon a time there was a lake which usually froze over in the winter. It was a great place to skate and very safe as long as the weather remained cold. Normally parents began to worry about the lake only after March 15 because the lake was in the Middle West where winter lasts till, like May, sometimes. Anyway, this one winter was quite warm (for the middle west) and little pools of water often appeared in the lake at the end of a day, though they froze again over night. The police warned everyone who lived near the Lake to be careful because the ice might be very thin in some places. Parents in turn warned their children, who, like kids often do, skillfully tuned out everything their parents said. So a lot of parents ordered the kids to stay away from the lake. Well, one week in late February there was a fierce cold spell and the Lake seemed to have returned to its old, icy self. The kids all wanted to skate. Teachers told them not to. Their parents told them not to. The kids listened and nodded dutifully.

How, they said, could there be thin ice when it was so cold. Most of the kids, more because of fear of being punished then fear of the lake, stood on the shore and watched as five of them, three boys and two girls, shouting that the others were “chicken” skated all around the lake and had a grand old time. Then all five of them were for just a moment in the same place and, well . . . You know what happened.

 There was a sound like someone had fired a gun. The ice cracked all around them and they were suddenly on an ice island in the middle of the lake at least twenty feet from any other ice – which was still cracking and breaking up. Then the little ice island looked like it was going to sink.

Then one little boy, the worst chicken of all because he was smart, ran into a house and called 911. In ten minutes a police helicopter arrived and lifted the five kids off the ice island.

Do I have to tell you what the cops said to them? Or their parents? Or how long they were grounded from skating?

11)   “Little  monk  who  opened blind  eyes:   
At  the Annual National Prayer Breakfast on February 2, 1984, Ronald Reagan, the former  president of the United  States, told  the old story of "the little monk," Telemachus,  a  martyr   whose  self-sacrificing  commitment  to  Christian ideals opened the blind  eyes and  deaf ears of the Romans and  their fifth century  Christian  emperor  Honorius.  According  to  the  story,  this  Turkish monk  was led by an inner voice to go  to Rome in order  to stop the  cruel and  inhuman gladiatorial fights between slaves. He followed the  crowds to the  Coliseum where  two  gladiators were  fighting.  He jumped into  the arena and  tried to stop them,  shouting "In the name of Christ, hold  back!" The gladiators stopped, but  the spectators became indignant.   A group of them  rushed into the arena and  beat Telemachus to death. When the crowd saw the  brave little monk  lying  dead in a pool  of blood, they  fell silent, leaving the stadium, one by one. Three days later, because of Telemachus' heroic sacrifice of his own  life, the Emperor decreed an end to the  games. In today's Gospel, which describes the  miraculous healing of  a  deaf mute,  we  are  invited  to  open our  ears  and  eyes,  loosen  our tongues and  pray  for the courage of our Christian convictions to become the voice of the voiceless.

12)  "The  Touch  of  the  Masters  Hand":
In  the  poem The  Touch  of  the Masters Hand, Myra  Brooks Welch tells the  story of the  auctioning of an old  dusty  violin.  The  violin  was  about to  be  sold  for a  mere  $3 when  a grey-haired man  stepped forward, picked it up, dusted it off, tuned it and began to play.  The man  played such sweet music that,  when  he finished, the  bidding jumped into  the  thousands of dollars. What  transformed the dusty  old  violin  into  a  precious  instrument?  The  touch of  the  Masters hand. The same touch of the Masters hand continues to transform our lives today. By Gods touch we become His instruments to accomplish the marvelous works described in todays Psalm 146: to secure justice for the oppressed, give food to the hungry  and  set the captives free.

 13)  "Five  past  two."  
Two  older   men  were   talking.   One   of  them   was bragging just a little bit. "I just purchased the most expensive hearing aid ever made," he said. "It is imported and  is guaranteed for life." The second man  asked: "What  kind is it?" The first man  answered, "Five past two."  We can laugh  about the  hearing  loss  that  comes  with  aging.  It  is  a  minor problem that  will affect most of us sooner or later.  In fact, experts predict that  years of rock music, leaf  blowers, and  noise pollution in general  will result in millions of baby boomers with hearing loss. According to a recent study  by  the  National  Institutes of  Health,  there  has  been a  stunning  26 percent increase in those suffering permanent hearing loss between the ages of 35 and  60, compared to 15 years earlier. (With Adam Hanft, Dictionary  of  the  Future  (New  York, NY: Hyperion,   2001), p.  3. Todays gospel passage tells us how Jesus healed a deaf man  who was mute.