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.
About the cropped picture of a pine forest
Knowledge is perspectival.
Whatever is said or written is filtered through an operative lens of the speaker or writer. Contrary to any claim of “absolute” truth, all that has been said and written is but conditioned and limited.
“From Our Perspective” is a humble admission of our limitation at the outset, even when we occasionally express ourselves in “radical” terms.
We have selected this cropped picture of a pine forest, from which we may consider a few ideas:
- God is God and only God is God. We, on the other hand, are mere creatures on earth. The terra (earth) represents where we are, our rootedness and our conditionality in space and time, the very reality of the socio-cultural background from which we came, our education, our experience, our relationships.
- From that corner of the terra on which we stand, we appreciate our occupation of an infinitely narrow strip of space and time as mere tenants of the Cosmic Owner. We stand before the Creator-God, as every human person does, regardless of adamant denial or explicit acknowledgement.
- In this earthly life, our vision is always perspectival, enabled but at the same time regulated by our operative lenses. In humility, it seems prudent to admit that even if we seem to know some small “truths” in relation to the Truth, we make many mistakes as well in our reading and comprehending things, events and people around us.
- For we always see things in relative clarity. While some trees in the picture appear very clear to us in minute details, others are shrouded in varying degrees of darkness.
- Darkness and light in the picture suggest that there will always be darkness and light in our earthly existence. What is encouraging is that in the midst of semi-darkness and relative “unseeing”, light prevails that enables sight and offers illumination. It teaches us in times of success and brilliance ever to remain sober and, in the depth of desolation and darkness never to despair.
- That light comes from “above”, illuminating and inspiring the light that is already in us from the dawn of creation, for the Creator had made us in His image. Clarity of vision depends on nearness to the source of light. So the trees appear resplendent in details where the light shines directly on them.
- Which of course teaches all Christians the importance of turning to Christ the light, to be illumined by the Light. Prayer and discernment are indispensable in our life work. Theology, we have all come to learn, is best done on our knees.
- Finally, this picture brings to mind the danger of getting puffed up over relative clarity. As one perceives clarity and renders account for individual trees, even adamantly insisting on perceived details, one does well to be ever vigilant of the danger in tree-counting, which cannot see the wood for the trees. Arguably the most germane of our time, Pope Francis is urging the whole faith community to be mindful of the larger picture and to take to heart what Jesus of Nazareth portrayed in the Gospels is all about. From first to last, Jesus is about the kingdom of God. To manifest that kingdom, he preaches a steadfast fidelity to God and lives that fidelity in mercy and love, compassion and forgiveness. From one mountain where he preaches the Sermon on the Mount, to the other mountain where he freely makes the ultimate sacrifice of his life for the salvation of the world, he preaches and lives to the full the evangelical values of God’s rule. He has shown by words, matched to the hilt by deeds to the very end, that those evangelical values are achievable. Affirming all that Jesus stood for – his teachings and his acting, his life works – God raised him up on the third day. So God has begun the process of raising the dead, in favour of all who die “in Christ” by imitating his way, his truth, his life. Perceiving the depth of this truth, instead of insisting on Jesus as being first and foremost about doctrines and laws, Pope Francis follows closely the pastoral blueprints which the Gospels say Jesus has set up by example for the Church he left behind. That is, to always put the human person before the law. To miss that larger picture – a picture after the very heart of the God of Jesus Christ – is to stay vehement in tree-counting.