“Ephphatha – Be Opened” – Mark 7:31-37
Introduction – Open and closed sayings
There are lots of sayings and idioms in our English language that relate to the words and concepts of being open and closed. Often those sayings have more figurative meanings than literal. Let me mention a few:
An “open door policy” means “I’m available to talk” – even if the door is literally closed. (But it helps if it’s open!!)
An “open marriage” means that you’re willing to share your marriage partner romantically with others. That’s definitely not the Genesis 2 and Ephesians 5 model of “a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife” that we heard about a couple of weeks ago.
“With open arms” indicates an eager and happy willingness. It’s more an attitude than a posture.
“Open a can of worms or Pandora’s box” refers to bringing up a subject or revealing a situation that is likely to become complicated and uncontrollable. Everything’s going to go everywhere!
“Eyes wide open” means that you fully understand all the implications of a decision/activity.
A “closed mind” means: my mind’s made up and nothing’s going to change it.
A “closed book” refers to something that is not easily understood.
“Behind closed doors” indicates that the topic is something private (not public).
A “closed door” usually means that an opportunity is lost, and sometimes we make God the one responsible for closing the door. Just as often, we may admit that God closed the door, but instead opened a window – another, maybe lesser opportunity.
And if we put the two together, we might have an “open and shut case” – one that, in a legal sense, is obvious, straightforward. In our Bible readings today we hear about some things that are closed, and some things that are open. If something is to be opened, that implies that it is currently closed. If something is to be closed, that implies that it is currently open.
1. James 2 closed-minded lack of compassion
Let’s first consider the closed-minded, sinful lack of compassion that we heard about from James 2. James paints a picture for us. It’s a gathering of people, and a well-to-do man comes in wearing an expensive suit and tie, with a gold ring, and his wife is wearing a fancy dress with a lot of bling and diamond jewelry. They look important, respectful, maybe even famous, so you give them the best seat in the house. Then a young woman comes in with ripped jeans… oh, no, ripped jeans are expensive these days, too, aren’t they… she comes in with ordinary jeans and a shabby t-shirt, wearing worn-out sandals, and with mussed up hair – and you give her one look, determine that you’re not really comfortable having her there, and reluctantly assign her to the seat in the back corner where no one will really notice her.
Oh, and one detail that I didn’t mention – the gathering of people is at your church. What we heard was ‘assembly’ but the Greek word is ‘synagog,’ so it is definitely a religious gathering, a Christian gathering. When Christians show such favouritism, when Christians draw distinctions and make judgments about others based on their appearance or dress, it is not only a closed-minded lack of compassion, it is a sinful lack of compassion.
James gave a second example. You see someone somewhere, anywhere, and you can tell that he is genuinely in need – poorly clothed, in need of a hearty meal. Again, the English translation doesn’t do justice to the Greek word. ‘Gumnos’ literally means ‘naked.’ It’s the same word that was used when Jesus painted a picture of the Final Judgment and He said, “I was naked, and you clothed me.” It’s the same word that was used of the young man in Gethsemane who, when grabbed, let his linen cloth go and ran away naked. So, heaven forbid, if it’s the guy asking for money at the traffic light, and he’s not just poorly clothed, but stark naked, with his ribs sticking out from lack of food, and you roll down your window and say, “I bless you, stay warm, and I hope you get a good meal soon,” – well, that, too, is closed-minded, heartless and sinful lack of compassion.
Such closed minds need repenting – both to God, and to the person you have snubbed. Such closed minds need opening… to the very heart of God who loves all with no favouritism. Ephphatha… be opened! Such closed minds need the faith in the heart to be active in loving one’s neighbour as yourself.
2. Mark 7 lived-out parable
Let’s get to the Gospel reading from Mark 7. In a sense, I would call it a lived-out parable. If my Sunday School teacher were here, she would tell you that a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. A lived-out parable is not just a story, it’s a real-life experience that has a heavenly meaning.
Another example of a lived-out parable is recorded in John 9. There, Jesus has an interaction with a man born blind. That man’s life was limited, closed off to the world in many ways – he could hear but he could not see, so he was relegated to begging for his livelihood. Without even a plea for mercy on the part of the blind man, Jesus put some mud on his eyes, told him to wash in a pool, and he came back seeing. Jesus opened his eyes. But the lived-out parable, heavenly meaning part was that, by the end of the chapter, by the end of the story, he who had never interacted with Jesus before, he who had never seen Jesus before saw Jesus for who He really is, and confessed Jesus as the man from God, the Lord, the one worthy of being followed. It wasn’t just his physical eyes that were opened, it was really his spiritual eyes that were opened.
In our Gospel reading from Mark 7, we hear a lived-out parable of a deaf and mute man who was also closed off to the world. The blind man could hear but not see; the deaf man could see but not hear. All his life the world was quiet. The world was bright and visible, but he couldn’t talk with his friends, he couldn’t hear music, he never heard his mother tenderly say, “I love you.”
OK, let’s do a little poll today. [You at home can participate too. Just write your answer in the comment section.] If you were forced to live with either being blind or being deaf, which one would you choose? Are you ready… with a show of hands, how many would choose to be blind? How many would choose to be deaf? My wife and I have had this discussion. She has said she would choose to be blind, because she loves to hear music, and she would want to have conversations with people. She feels that deafness would close her off to the world in a more significant way. I would choose to be deaf. I prefer to be able to see the beauty of God’s creation and to navigate my way around. I could still communicate easily by reading and writing. But each person would have their own reasons.
So, this episode takes place in the Decapolis. It’s the region of the Ten Cities to the east and south east of the Sea of Galilee. Because it’s on the other side of the Jordan River, it’s not exactly Jewish territory. But Jesus had been there before. That’s where He cast a legion of demons out of a man and sent them into a herd of pigs. Jesus told the former demon-possessed man to tell others what God had done for him and how God had had mercy on him. Evidently the man had done that, for when Jesus arrived this time, His reputation preceded Him. The people brought the deaf-mute man to Jesus and begged Him to heal the man.
Sometimes Jesus healed people with words, sometimes with touch. This time it was both. Jesus put his finger into the deaf man’s ears, touched his tongue, and said words that would immediately come true – “Ephphatha… be opened.” The man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly. Remember it was a lived-out parable… there was a heavenly meaning behind the events of that day. For the first time, the deaf man’s ears heard the Word of God, and he experienced not his mother but his heavenly Father saying “I love you,” in word and deed. Mark doesn’t tell us this explicitly in his account of this healing, but I think we can assume that the deaf man heard that day about the grace and forgiveness of God that come through Jesus, the Saviour. It would be nice to know the follow-up story – did the man become a follower of Jesus? Did he tell people what Jesus had done, like the demon-possessed man did? But Mark leaves that all to our speculation.
3. Isaiah 35 Messiah-signs
We do hear a little bit of the follow-up, the reaction of the spectators that day. The people were astonished, and proclaimed to others what Jesus had done, and they said, “He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
That’s not just a description of events they had witnessed. It’s a fulfillment of the prophecy that we heard from Isaiah 35. Through Isaiah, God said the promised Messiah would come and save you, and these would be the signs of His coming – the deaf would hear, and the mute would sing for joy. There would be other signs, too – the blind would see, the lame would leap, and there would be some wonderful nature events, too, and ALL OF THAT would send sorrow and sighing packing, and the bottom line is that people would sing and be filled with joy – everlasting joy!! That’s what the coming of the Messiah would be about. So, if those people of the Decapolis had any familiarity with Isaiah 35, they could easily have concluded that this Jesus was the long-promised Messiah from God. From our New Testament perspective, we can confidently draw that very same conclusion – Jesus is the Messiah who opens eyes, and ears, and tongues, and especially hearts… after all, Isaiah had told of the God who would come and save you. And that’s exactly what Jesus, as the Messiah, did – He came to save YOU!! He did that, not by opening your eyes or your ears or your tongues. He did that by dying on the cross in your place and opening your heart to believe that His forgiveness is applied to you by virtue of that faith. He came to save YOU so that sorrow and sighing because of your sin or because of your lot in life would depart from you like darkness flees from the rising sun or like a mouse scurries away from a hungry cat. Jesus came to replace that sorrow and sadness with gladness and joy, everlasting joy – because God’s grace conquers whatever burdens us and discourages us and defeats us. What did Isaiah write? “The ransomed or the redeemed of the Lord will return to God’s presence with singing, with hearts filled with joy.” And that means that, like the people who saw Jesus heal the deaf man, we can proclaim to those around us, “Jesus has done all things well… ALL things!” – especially our salvation!!
4. Bring it home… Be opened!
And what does that mean? It is a call, as James wrote, to demonstrate our faith in Jesus in words and actions of love and compassion to our neighbours. Sometimes our ears, our eyes, our mouths, our hearts, our wallets and our compassion are closed to certain people. James identifies that even followers of Christ can be closed minded to people with shabby clothes or to the poor or to the homeless or to people who don’t look like us. God calls us to not show favouritism to the rich and famous and popular and successful people of the world, but to treat all people with the same dignity and respect and compassion. Even to us today, Jesus says, “Ephphatha, be opened,” as He calls for:
– our eyes to be open to the lonely
– our ears to be open to the cries of the hurting
– our mouths to be open toward those who don’t know Jesus
– our hands to be open to the needs of those around us
– our wallets to be open – as we are able – to every human catastrophe – whether it be hurricane, earthquake, famine, or fire
– our hearts to be open to every single child of God who needs a hug or a smile or a gentle word of welcome and acceptance
This week, Jesus says, “Ephphatha, be opened,” as we welcome children back to our school to hear with their ears about God’s love for them.
Jesus says, “Ephphatha, be opened,” as we cautiously and with appropriate sensitivity open our church for gatherings of public worship – hearing God’s Word, receiving the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood to strengthen us as we walk with Him.
Jesus says, “Ephphatha, be opened” as we consider how to make our faith in Him evident in our deeds toward our neighbour.
If there is something in your life that should be open but is currently closed, listen for Jesus’ voice. He might be saying, “Ephphatha, be opened,” to you.
If a door of opportunity seems to have closed for you, listen for Jesus’ voice, and watch for other opportunities. You might see a window with Jesus saying, “Ephphatha, be opened,” for you.
If you are a person who generally keeps things pretty close to yourself, listen for Jesus’ voice. He might be saying, “Ephphatha, be opened,” so that you open yourself to connecting with people in meaningful and personal ways.
And, of course, Jesus is saying to each and every one of our hearts, “Ephphatha, be opened” – be open to His grace and love, for He has come to save you, and to bring you everlasting joy. Amen.