From the Pastor – September 6, 2009

Ephphatha. It’s not a word you hear every day. It’s one of the dozen or so Aramaic words that are preserved in the New Testament, along with a number of Aramaic names and places. Most scholars agree that the Jesus primarily spoke Aramaic, with some Hebrew, Greek and Latin. The towns of Nazareth and Capernaum, where Jesus lived, were primarily Aramaic-speaking communities, though Greek and Latin were widely spoken in the eastern Roman Empire.

The Gospels are written in Greek, while most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew. But it is interesting that the Greek of the Gospels sometimes transliterates exact Aramaic words to preserve the exact words of Jesus. Most of these are familiar to us, words like “Abba” addressing God as Father, “talitha kum” to the little girl Jesus raises from the dead, and “Eli Eli, lema sabachthani” (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”) which Jesus spoke from the cross. Today He says “ephphatha,” telling the deaf man’s ears to be opened. And opened they were.

The call of Jesus to “be opened” points back to the first reading in Isaiah’s prophecy about the coming of the Lord. And it had such a profound effect on the followers of Jesus that they wanted to reproduce not simply the “meaning” of what Jesus said, but the actual word: ephphatha. And the word points to us in two ways. Most of us heard it for the first time at our Baptism, when the priest – after anointing our head with Chrism – whispered it in our ear and prayed that “our ears would soon be open to hear the Word of God and our mouths to proclaim it.”

And it also points to our present day, to a command that we open our own ears to Jesus and His plan for us. It points to His proclamation of the Kingdom of God. It points to the Beatitudes. And by having this Gospel preceded by the reading from St. James, the Church proposes today we “be opened” to our obligation to care for the poor of the world. As James says: “Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs to the kingdom that He promised to those who love Him.” Our parish does great work for the poor, but we are called to do more. We can’t transfer our personal obligations to care for the poor to others. Each of us must respond to the words of Jesus: “whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers, you do unto me.” Ephphatha! Be opened!

Rev. Msgr. Christopher H. Nalty