The Vine Dresser and the Fig Tree, by James Tissot (1)

The Ephphatha Coffee-Corner Ministry of Dr. Jeffrey & Angie Goh

The term “Ephphatha” is taken from Scripture, Mark 7:34.

  • They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly[Mark 7:32-35, NRSV].

“Ephphatha” is a blessing from the Lord Jesus who opens our ears so we can hear and loosens our tongues so we can speak clearly. It comes with three reminders.

First, preceding “Ephphatha” is an acknowledgement. One must first know that one is in a place unsuited for healthy existence. One needs to exit from that place, to be set free from unhealthy things imposed on us and to which we have grown attached through time, ignorance, and force of habit. This is the crucial lesson we draw from the ancient story of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. Their archetypal exit from the place of slavery to the promised land bears fundamental significance to the Judeo-Christian faith.

Second, pronouncing the word “Ephphatha” is difficult. Spoken by Jesus in his native Aramaic, it carries a triple diphthong, two of which are consecutive. To pronounce it properly, one is required to take a short pause between the two “f” sounds. The difficulty in pronunciation and the necessary pause hints at and reveals the word’s very meaning – “be opened.” To be opened takes work. And it involves pain. To open up is painful. To open our hearts, eyes, ears, arms, hands and wallets often takes the sharp Spirit of God to cut through resistance, rigidity and misconceived self-interest. It is always easier to stay closed, to put up blinders. That way, we avoid challenges and changes to the patterns of thought and assumptions to which we have grown accustomed and are comfortable with. But that is also a form of death, comfortable it may be. Is that why it takes a group of people to get the deaf man to Jesus? Did they have to drag him, kicking and stammering to a new life of sound and speech, just like the stammering Moses had to drag the stubborn Israelites, full of complaints and grievances, out of the land of slavery to the land of milk and honey?

Third, and yet, the gift of hearing refers not only to the ears, but also to the heart and the mind. We can neither hear nor speak worthily, unless we receive God’s words with openness and readiness to act. If we believe that the Gospel is meant to be lived, so that the message would not be dead letters from generations long gone but is the living Word of the living God, then the story of the eagerness of the people in Beroea to listen to God’s Word is told for our instructions. In welcoming Paul and Silas, the Bereans, unlike the Thessalonians before them, displayed three qualities helpful for the spread of the Gospel. They were open-minded, ready to welcome the Word, and eager to study the Scriptures daily (Acts 17:10-12).

If Ephphatha represents freedom from an obstinate place where one is deaf and voiceless, then “Coffee-Corner” symbolizes a freedom from the strictures of formality and structures artificially imposed on the people of faith. It is a place where people can relax and speak freely as equals about just anything under the sun. It offers a space for discussions that take in different dimensions and perspectives, so we may see more clearly where people stand and why. It provides a forum for questions to be put and answers to be explored. It presumes that we all have a voice, are capable of hearing, and have opinions of our own, and are not inhibited from speaking up. To be sure, our little coffee-corner aims to help open our ears to hear more deeply and our eyes to see more clearly, so that we might go on to speak more courageously and to live more truthfully.

“Ministry” is another word for service. The Greek word diakoneo means “to serve” – to minister is to serve. Another Greek word douleuo means “to serve as a slave.” In the Markan narrative of the Ephphatha story, the concern of Jesus who worked the miracle in private was not to make a name for Himself but to bless and heal. With Jesus providing the pattern for Christian ministry — He came, not to be served, but to serve (see Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45; John 13:1-17), His disciples in the New Testament portray ministry as service to God and to other people in His name. So Christians minister by meeting people’s needs with love and humility on Christ’s behalf, out of their devotion to Christ and their love for others. All Christians are called to minister, neither in purely spiritual things, nor in purely practical things, but to human persons upon the ultimate goal of Christianity – which is to help people become the best human persons they possibly can – the children of God.

Dr. Jeffrey Goh and his wife Angelina Lim reside in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia. Jeffrey has a Law degree (LL.B.) from Buckingham University, England and qualified as a Barrister-at-Law at the Lincoln’s Inn, London, and Angie is a trained teacher. They both studied Theology and Canon Law at the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium where Jeffrey earned the degrees of J.C.L. in Canon Law, Ph.D. in Religious Studies and S.T.D. in Sacred Theology, and Angie her S.T.B. in Sacred Theology and M.A. in Religious Studies. They have taught theology at St Peter’s College, a de jure archdiocesan major seminary in Kuching, Malaysia, while a de facto regional seminary for the Catholic Church in East Malaysia, for some twelve and ten years respectively. They travel extensively throughout the Catholic Conference of Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei to conduct retreats and seminars and guest-lecture at several official institutions overseas. They also write and publish books for the laity. Jeffrey is currently a visiting Associate Professor at the Theology and Religious Education Department, De La Salle University-Manila, Philippines.

This Ephphatha Coffee-Corner Ministry is supported by friends in Christ who, believing that Christ is the healer in Whom, through Whom and with Whom that those who come seeking are helped and healed, wish to do something to help others to experience the goodness of the Lord, to strengthen their faith, and to deepen their faith knowledge. Above all, conscious of their daily experiences as prodigal sons and daughters of God, they consciously struggle to put in practice their Christian faith in their respective stations in life. They value open, free, in-depth and meaningful dialogue along the journey of faith. You are invited to dialogue with us.