by Fr. Tommy Lane
How are we to understand the healing of bodily ailments prophesied in the first reading? (Isa 35:4-7) Is this prophecy unfulfilled? A Jewish document, the Babylonian Talmud compiled around 5th or 6th century, views the healing of bodily ailments in the first reading today from Isaiah in an eschatological sense (b. Sanh. 11:1, I.22). It sees these healings taking place at the end of time after the general resurrection of the dead. We also believe we will have a glorified body at the resurrection of the dead. However there is another view, that of Mark’s Gospel which we heard today. (Mark 7:31-37) What Jesus did to the deaf mute was dramatic; he put his fingers into the deaf man’s ears and touched his tongue with spittle. He said, “Ephphatha” which Mark translates for us, “Be opened.” Mark has given us the very word in Aramaic used by Jesus as he healed this man. After Jesus healed the deaf and dumb man there is a statement by the crowd which is a deliberate reference to Isaiah’s text; they said, “He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” (Mark 7:37) Without stating it explicitly, Mark is saying as clearly as he can that the prophecy of Isaiah is now fulfilled in Christ. Because of Christ we no longer have to wait until the end of time for the prophecy of the first reading to be fulfilled eschatologically. It has already been fulfilled in Christ.
The Jews at the time of Christ, and for centuries before, placed emphasis on the Law and they often simply used the word “Law/Torah” to refer to the entire Old Testament. The early Christians saw the Prophets in a new way, anticipating Christ and used the word “Prophets” as a way of referring to the entire Old Testament in much the same way as the Jews used the word Law to refer to the entire Old Testament. For the early Christians, the oracles of the Prophets were not just for the Prophets’ times, not just eschatological, but also about Christ and the Christians’ time, and therefore also about our time.
Is Isaiah’s prophecy fulfilled only in the healing of that deaf mute? Isaiah’s prophecy was also fulfilled in every one of us when we were baptized. Immediately after we were baptized there were four signs or explanatory rites showing the new life received during baptism. The last of the four signs or explanatory rites is the Ephphatha blessing of the ears and mouth by the priest. It is the action that Jesus performed on the deaf mute, blessing his ears and tongue. This is the prayer of the priest,
The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.
So when we were baptized what Christ did to that deaf mute happened to us in a spiritual way, and Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled in us. When we were baptized Christ spiritually put his fingers into our ears and touched our tongue with his spittle. Through faith in Christ our life is raised to a new level. In heaven we shall see God face to face but now we get a foretaste of the beatific vision. In this life we have crosses, but Christ has raised our life to a new level. Because of our faith in Christ nothing is ever again the same. We hear everything through the open ears of faith and say everything through open mouth of witnessing Christ.
Not just that passage from Isaiah but much of the Old Testament is now raised to a new level in Christ. It is precisely because of the raising of the Old Testament to a new level that we are gathered here in prayer this morning. There were many sacrifices in the temple every day, among them the thanksgiving offering. Rabbinic teaching (Leviticus Rabba 9:7) said that all sacrificing would cease except the todah, the thanksgiving offering. All sacrificing did cease with the destruction of Jerusalem and now there is one daily sacrifice, the Eucharist, the thanksgiving sacrifice, todah. (See Cardinal Ratzinger's The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy pp61-60)
The Ephphatha or opening to Christ at baptism is just the first of many openings to Christ all during our life. At that first opening it was Christ who opened our ears and mouth. Since then it is up to us to open up to Christ. How many times Christ stands before us in varied ways and we have to decide to open up to Christ. He will not push his way in. The handle is on the inside of the door for us to open. Those who open the door more to Christ may be those whom society often rejects. The second reading today, the Letter of James, warns against making class distinctions. In the Scriptures the poor are seen as much more willing to open the door to Christ.
Through faith in Christ our life is raised to a new level. In heaven we shall see God face to face but now we get a foretaste of the beatific vision. In this life we have crosses, but Christ has raised our life to a new level. Christ stands before each of us today, to once again bless our ears that we may hear what he says to us in ever new ways, and to bless our tongues that we may witness to him:
Ephphatha. The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.
Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2012
More homilies for the First Sunday Year B
Related Homilies: on Jesus as healer Jesus our Healer
Second Reading: We are all Equal in Dignity before God