Have you ever wondered what life would be like for you if you had been born deaf? If you had never heard sounds, or been able to speak words? It is a sobering thought.
Recently my younger son was reading a biography on Helen Keller, and as we discussed her story, we reflected together on the struggles she would have faced as a young girl without sight or hearing, trying to understand the world around her. How utterly alone she must have felt, enclosed in the darkness of not seeing, and the silence of not hearing! Indeed, it would have seemed that the means of relating to other human beings —even of understanding reality itself — was totally closed off to her.
Silence and Isolation
Imagine, then, the experience of permanent silence. One would no longer hear beautiful music, or laughter, or the sound of wind outside. More importantly, one would no longer be able to participate in conversation with others, at least not to the same degree as others. Without ever hearing the pattern of human words, we would not be able to form them on our own; and in turn, even the process of forming thoughts and ideas would be impaired.
Ears to Hear
In today’s Gospel reading, we encounter a man in precisely this situation. His friends bring him before Jesus and beg for healing on his behalf. What follows is one of the most tactile acts of healing we find in the Gospels. Jesus takes the man aside, places his fingers in his ears, spits, then touches the man’s tongue, and at the last moment Jesus looks up and groans, declaring aloud, “Ephphatha!,” or “Be opened!” It is a remarkable sequence of physical actions, punctuated by that Aramaic phrase Jesus would have actually uttered, all to bring about the man’s hearing and ability to speak. We sense there was something vitally important in this miracle of granting a man his hearing. After all, hearing was intimately linked with the gift of faith; those who had “ears to hear” were able to listen and receive the words Jesus spoke.
Through both hearing and speech, a person is drawn into communion with others. It is this gift of communion which Jesus desires to give the deaf man, in the act of opening his ears. From the world of silence and isolation, the man then finds himself wonderfully opened to his friends and to Jesus standing before him.
Communion Broken and Restored
Our first reading today from Genesis depicts a very different opening of the senses. While the healing of the deaf man brought him into communion with the people around him, Adam and Eve experience the dissolution of that communion on multiple levels. As they eat from the tree forbidden to them, “their eyes [are] opened,” and they now see each other as bodies to be used, rather than as body-and-soul composites, each a total gift of self to the other. That state of original communion within themselves and with each other is fatally broken. Moreover, their communion with God is severed as well, and thus when God calls out to them “in the cool of the evening,” they hide themselves, no longer trusting the One who created them.
Jesus enters salvation history in order to heal that state of broken communion: within ourselves, with each other, and with God. By restoring hearing to the deaf man, he allows him once again to relate meaningfully to the world around him. Today, let us reflect prayerfully upon the Lord’s beautiful exhortation to us: Ephphatha, or “be opened!” Which parts of our heart are in need of being opened? Are there elements of our spiritual hearing that need to be awakened? Let us ask for the grace of deeper hearing, so that we may come to enjoy all the fullness of human communion.
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