Text: Mark 7: 24- 37
Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter. First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs. “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him. After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
There are two miracles that we are going to deal with. In the first part Jesus is in the Gentile area of Tyre. One must assume Jesus was here on a retreat, to rest. His weariness was very evident in his response too. It was in such a context that a Syro- Phoenician woman arrives for the healing of her daughter. It is said that she begs Jesus. We will have also read Matthew 15: 21- 28. To the request of the woman there response of Jesus was,Jesus did not answer a word (Matthew 15: 23). Here Jesus behaves as if he had not heard the woman’s plea. When the disciples insist he answered “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Matthew 15: 24) When the woman insists and pleads further Jesus answered “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” (Mark 7: 27). What? Jesus said that? We have to understand that Jesus is fully God and fully Man. Here Jesus displays his self-understanding and mission which was till then only restricted to the Jews. There is where the answer of the Syro- Phoenician woman is important. “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” ( Mark 7: 28). This is what moves Jesus to heal the daughter of a Gentile woman. This is the “Ephphatha” moment for Jesus where he opens up from his ethnic understanding of ministry. He reaches out. In a way when Jesus was acting deaf towards her, the woman opened up Jesus ears. When Jesus spoke words that did not heal, the woman loosened his tongue to proclaim words of healing. The greatness of Jesus was he was ready to be opened by a gentile woman.
After this encounter Jesus goes to again a Gentile area of Decapolis. Here some people bring a deaf man who can hardly speak so that Jesus can heal. There are all possibilities that this man was a gentile. Jesus took him away from the crowd and put his fingers into the deaf man’s ear. Here Jesus is communicating with the deaf man. By putting his fingers he was communicating the act of healing. His spit on the tongue signified loosening so that the man with labored speech could speak clearly. Then Jesus looked up to heaven with a deep sigh and said “Ephphatha” which was the Aramic word for open up. My humble observation is that these two miracles are interlinked where the first miracle is the Syro- Phoenician Woman facilitated the “Ephphatha” of Jesus ministry and attitudes. The second miracle helped Jesus to reach out the gentiles and open up the Deaf man who had a labored speech.
I remember that when I joined for Masters in Social Work (M.S.W.)in 2003 I had so many prejudices that made me a very closed person. There were many students who were from the rural belt of Maharashtra and I as an urbanite felt it was below my dignity to interact with them. When everybody in the class ate lunch sitting on the floor I decided to sit on the chair. I only associated myself with the English speaking urban people. Best thing was I was not even aware of this discriminatory behavior of mine. It is when one of my friends Sangharsh challenged me at this point. He observed this inherent contradiction in my behavior and confronted me. This confrontation was not easy to digest. I also was in no mood to accept that I had done something wrong. Sangharsh is a person filled with passion for justice for the people who are oppressed. During our course itself he started living in the slums to understand the problem of the people. It is in association with him and his commitment to the Dalits and needy that I could slowly accept my closed behavior. My friendship with him was the Ephphatha moment for me in my life. This helped me overcome my elitism in some sense. It helped me realize my disability sprouted from my attitude towards people. If one wishes to be effective Christians and human beings we have to open up. We have to realize that the prejudices that we hold against people and communities does not reflect who they are but is just a mirror reflection of who we are.
As a church too we need to open up. We love to have mission fields in far off places like Tibetan border, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. We are also ready to support it. But how far have we been able to make an impact in the places where we have our churches. The questions posed by Rev Sunil George Mathew at the Delhi Diocese Clergy Conference were: How are we associated with the larger benefits of the Society? How many from the church are ready to send their children as doctors to places where there is no medical facility? How many are ready to send their children as social activists and social workers? As writers who challenge the system? What are we doing to address the spectrum of disabilities that the society is facing? With the rise in sexual crime against women, how have we responded?Are we using the Government Welfare Schemes for the larger benefit? Are we engaging with the panchayat? Before the Great lent begins, let these questions challenge us.
Let us pray. “Lord we have turned Lukewarm. Our hearts are closed. Our eyes are closed. Our ears are closed. Our Mouth is shut. Lord we pray that you touch our heart. You touch our eyes. You put your fingers in our ears. Lord with your spit, loosen our tongues. Let us hear you say “Ephphatha”. Lord open us up. Amen”
Rev Merin Mathew
Mar Thoma Syrian Church