Ephphatha!

A baby in the womb, at 18 weeks, can begin to hear noises. At 24 weeks, a baby can detect noise outside the womb and can turn their eyes and head towards the direction of the sound. Can you imagine a tiny human baby in utero searching for your voice as you talk to them from outside the womb? Then after they are born, often between parents there is a fun and friendly competition on wether the baby will say “mama” or “dadda” first. We talk to babies in ranges of voices. We make goofy faces and funny noises. They see us. They listen. And they try to imitate us. They try to speak back to us and eventually they do.

In today’s reading, Jesus heals a deaf man who had a speech impediment. The Gospel of Mark tells us that before Jesus healed this man, he took him away from the crowds of people to be alone. Jesus then “put his finger into the man’s ears, and spitting, touched his tongue.” Looking up to heaven Jesus groaned and said to the man, “Ephphatha!” and instantly the man was healed.

You will notice that someone who is deaf often times has a speech impediment. This is because they cannot hear their own voice which affects their ability to speak. By being deaf they cannot hear other people speak and distinguish speech and dialect. It makes sense that the deaf man in the Gospel had a speech impediment – it’s not that he couldn’t speak but, that he couldn’t speak clearly. Jesus was known and sought after for his ability to heal the physical body. Every time he heals the physical body, he also heals the spiritual body.

At one point or another in our lives we were deaf and unable to speak. We couldn’t hear God’s voice nor his commanding Word. We couldn’t hear the Father because something was blocking our ears. As a result we could not speak about the Father, about His love, about His Son, Jesus Christ. What was it that you were doing at that point in your life? What worldly pleasure were you enjoying that made you turn away from God, that closed your ears to His voice? Jesus took the deaf man away from the crowds to heal him – away from the bad influences, away from worldly treasures, away from temptation, away from the indecent culture. Jesus took the man away – to a place where is was just the two of them – to a place where the man, with newly opened ears, could freely listen and talk to God.

Let Jesus take you away to a quiet place, free of distractions, where you can listen to him. Let him into your life and allow him to heal you.

Ephphatha! Be opened to God’s love. Be opened to God’s mercy. Be opened to follow God’s Word. Be opened to accept Him. And then you can clearly speak God’s truth to others.

Image Credit: [Public Domain] Christ healing a deaf and dumb man by Domenico Maggiotto

What Kind of God

Recently it seemed that a wish was about to come true. It was the wish that I made the last three years while blowing out birthday candles. The wish that I had been working tirelessly for and praying for on a daily basis. I worked feverishly to prepare, past the point of pain, and then on the promised day enlisted all my friends and family to pray as well.   I was confident that God had heard my prayer, sure that it was all finally going to work out as I had hoped.

It did not.

The disappointment was crushing. At first I could only laugh at the horror of it all. But fatigue and frustration fed my feelings which quickly turned black and melodramatic. Not only was there no light at the end of the tunnel, the tunnel itself had fallen in, and an entirely new tunnel would have to be built.

The Opposition Voice began to whisper words of doubt and discouragement. “Surely if God were good, He would have heard and answered your prayer…”

I have at times in my life felt a supernatural joy, disproportionate to the circumstances, from a source that had to be More than human. This was the opposite. For just a few moments, my heart felt burdened with an inhuman aching; the pain of promises broken and dreams dashed and all the failed expectations of all my friends and family and those I don’t even know seemed to take over. Miscarriages. Broken marriages. Failed operations. Caskets lowered into the ground. Unanswered prayers of every kind. “What kind of a God do you believe in?” the voice taunted.

The devil always overplays his hand. In his very taunt he offered me the antidote: I believe in a God who is good.

I don’t know how God will bring good into or out of all of these situations. But I know He is good.

This trust in the goodness of God: the virtues of faith and hope—these are the weapons of life in the desert.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus seems to be rejecting not only the Syrophoenician woman’s request for the healing of her daughter, but the woman herself. “Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” Yikes!

But despite the apparent harshness of Jesus’ rebuke, the woman persists, and cleverly turns around this unflattering epithet: “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.”

Scripture scholar Mary Healy notes that not only is this Gentile woman filled with chutzpa in her persistence, but she is the only person in all of Mark’s Gospel who addresses Jesus as Lord. This remarkable recognition of Jesus’ sovereignty comes not from an Israelite, but from a foreigner. She pays Him homage, falling at his feet, and in her reply expresses confidence that His goodness will include Gentiles as well.

Her faith and her persistence move Jesus to grant her request. Her daughter is healed.

The Syrophoenician woman turns out to be a model of Christian faith…She refused to take no for an answer—and her boldness is rewarded. The clear lesson in this story is that the Lord does hear our prayers, and even his apparent refusals are meant to awaken in us a yet deeper faith, which opens us to receive the gift he has for us. Few sayings of Jesus are recorded more often than his reassurance that what we ask in prayer with faith we will receive. –Dr. Mary Healy

Lord, grant us the grace to trust always in Your goodness, even when we cannot see your plan.

Michael_Angelo_Immenraet_-_Jesus_and_the_Woman_of_Canaan

Source: Healy, Mary.  The Gospel of Mark. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academics, 2008) pp. 143-145.

Image: Michael Angelo Immenraet [Public domain]

Stepping Out of the Boat and… wait, did you say walk on the water?

Sometimes we are called to step out of the boat.

As my husband and I were approaching our wedding day, we would say, “We’re stepping out of the boat together!” In prayer, my husband had had an image of us stepping out of the boat, like St. Peter, walking toward Jesus. We had spent time dating and discerning marriage with each other and had experienced a lot of confirmation that God was calling us to live out the vocation of marriage together. Even in the confidence that this was God’s plan, there was a reality that we didn’t know what our journey as husband and wife would look like. We were stepping out into the ocean of unknown, side by side, shoulder to shoulder, praying that we’d always have the grace to keep our focus on Jesus.

We’ve been married under a year and a half, and this stepping out of the boat theme has continued! Most significantly, we relied on this image as we became parents. Every day as a parent can bring surprises and unknowns and encourages us to be open to the waves or the calm while relying on Jesus’ guidance. It’s an exciting and truly joy-filled adventure.

Currently, my husband and I are in the midst of another “stepping out of the boat” situation, facing some big decisions for our family. And even though there is fear as we look at each other and say, “well…we are stepping out of the boat again,” we have confidence in the Lord, as He has never failed us before. He has proven the power of His guiding hand to each of us, first as single individuals, and now as a couple, over and over again. He calls us out onto the water, where the uncomfortability and risk are apparent, but where we have the choice to stay close to Him… through prayer, through trust in His promises and provision, through His grace and knowing His love for us.

Because we are currently in the midst of a stepping out (or more like jumping out) of the boat season again, there is an uncomfortability as we are asked to step into the unknown and to cling more truly to Christ. Christ calls us. He asks us to follow Him. It may often be uncomfortable and feel risky. It may look very risky from a worldly perspective. But the risk is where God can show up most clearly. He reveals Himself and His power. There is a theme and a refrain through the chapters of Exodus. God is revealing His Divine power to the Egyptians and Israelites. He is revealing who He IS. “…that they may know that I am the Lord” (cf. Exodus 7:5, 14:8, 29:46, emphasis added). We worship the same God. And His actions in our lives reveal who He is. He reveals Himself and His power not only to us, but to those we know. Our lives can point others to God as He calls us and we follow, putting our trust in Him. And so in the middle of the uncomfortable, risky times, preparing to step out into the waters ahead, we must trust His promises and stay focused on Christ. He never fails us.

As we look back, we will see His unmistakable fingerprints in our lives. He always leads us into goodness that we couldn’t have imagined or planned ourselves. This is who our God is. And this is the adventure of life with Christ. Our stability is truly in Him alone. And it’s a stability beyond anything earthly. His promises are true. “Do not be afraid, my child. I am with you wherever you go.” How is He calling you to step out of the boat and place your trust in Him? Whether it is not clear to you right now, or very clear, you can trust that He is with you and guiding you. Let us open our hearts to His Love, listen for His guidance, and follow where He asks us to come. Even if it means stepping out of the boat into the unknown.