“They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. (Jesus) took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” –Mk 7:32-36
Literally, today’s Gospel reading is about a deaf and mute man healed by Jesus the miracle worker. And this is true on a surface level. But as you all know by now, the Bible isn’t just true on the surface, for one guy at one point in time, but true to its depth, for all men and women at all times. And if we look at this story a little closer, it seems that this man’s problem went beyond a technical loss of hearing and speech, otherwise why would Jesus’ cure for him be ‘Ephphata,’ ‘Be Opened;’ why not just say ‘your cured’ or ‘your hearing is restored.’ The command was be opened, because when it comes to God we are not only hard of hearing, which is technical and passive, but also hard of listening, which is governed by our will and agency. Lots of times you and I can hear God, but we don’t always listen; and this affliction goes back to our ancestors Adam and Eve. Jesus is urging us ‘open your ears,” and if you’ve ever said this to your child in frustration, you know you aren’t recommending a hearing test. Your child hears you fine, but is having problems listening and obeying, and this could land them in trouble. Jesus is doing the same for us his children today. Be opened. Don’t let yourself be closed up in doubt, anger, in fear, in shame and sin, instead be opened to the powerful grace of God and the love around you.
Fortunately, today’s Bible story also suggests a cure for our deafness-and even more fortunately-that cure is within and around us today. The cure for eyes, ears and hearts closed off to those around us and God, is simply to be opened to those around us in friendship, and to God in faithfulness. This also just happens to be the two reasons why this church exists and why we adults and children alike came together today.
Let’s start with openness to friendship in this story and in the story of our lives. About friendship someone said, “A friend is the first person who comes in, when the whole world goes out.” In today’s Gospel reading, a deaf and mute man’s world had gone out. He is closed off from hearing and speaking to others, he is isolated and alone. How amazing it is then, that this deaf and mute man had friends who ‘begged’ Jesus to lay hands on him, friends who were the first persons to come in when the whole world goes out.
In this, God’s church, Our Lord provides us with friends-and expects we will be friends-when we find ourselves closed off, in whatever way from others. We may not be from the same place or of the same age, but God has brought him to you and you to her; we must be ready to assist, serve and love each other as friends in this special place. There are several examples, all in confidence, of people in this church who have been closed off in depression, abuse, illness or loneliness, and when we in this church open our hearts and hands to them, we do nothing short of assist in miracles.
But we don’t perform miracles ourselves. The good friends in today’s Bible reading didn’t bring their friend to a medicine man, they took him to Jesus, a friend of humanity in the deepest sense, the first person who comes in when the whole world goes out. Because although friendship brought this deaf and mute man forward, their faith that Jesus could do something about it was the faith the deaf man needed in order to be whole. This explains a strange detail in our parable. Jesus takes the deaf man aside in private, away from the crowd, before looking to the heavens, and healing him. This suggests that good friendship can lead us to God, but the final step of faith is ours alone.
At that’s just what God does with us here in church. Our friendship and fellowship is so important because it can help to lead us to the right path, lead us to good and to God. That’s why we have after-church fellowship for us all, that’s why we have Sunday school for our young families. That’s why we take care of each other; why we are sad for each other’s losses, pray in times of need and are joyful in other’s joy. But, in the end, the final step toward God, is a very personal experience, where he blesses you and I to “Be opened.” To be opened to all that, with Him, we can be, in every aspect of our lives. To open our ears and loose our tongues that we might hear and then tell – of the amazing grace of God and the great gift of sacred fellowship he has given us at St. Hagop Armenian Church—now and always….