Closed often feels safer than open, but open is usually where the life is.
A closed store is less likely to be robbed because there is no money in the register, but unless you open the store for customers, the business will die. You can avoid wrecking your car by leaving it in the garage, but unless you risk taking it on the road, you won't get anywhere.
The purpose of a store is to make sales, and it will not generate income unless it’s open for business. The purpose of a car is to provide transportation, and it will achieve that purpose only when on the street. Keeping them locked up may feel safer, but ironically the refusal to take risks actually produces failure far more certainly than most of the things we fear. Open stores might get robbed, but closed stores always go bankrupt. A car on the road might have an accident, but a car in the garage will never take you where you need to go.
In today's Gospel, people bring Jesus a deaf-mute, a man who, due to physical incapacity, had ears that were closed to hearing and a mouth that was closed to speech. Jesus took pity on the man, touched his ears and his tongue, and said, "Ephphatha, be opened." And the man's ears were opened, and his tongue was loosened. He could now use these organs to communicate, which was not possible when they were closed.
During the baptism of infants, there is a part of the rite called the "Ephphatha," where I touch the baby's ears and mouth, saying, "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."
The Lord touches our ears with his word every time the Scriptures are read, and our mouths proclaim the faith every time we recite the creed. Receiving his word is more than just hearing his word because now that we have heard, he expects a response. The purpose of faith is to empower us to love and serve God in this life to be happy with him forever in the next. But we will achieve that purpose only when we roll up our sleeves and place our whole selves at his service. It may feel safer to hold back and not respond because responding will require some changes on our part -- and no one really likes change. We feel much safer locked up with whatever is familiar, even if it's not taking us where we need to go. Why not just do the minimum?
Well, for one thing, “With the measure you measure, it shall be measured back to you.” Do only the minimum, and you can expect only the minimum from God in return. Besides, what makes us think we know what the minimum is anyway?
Talk about taking a risk: Jesus gave his whole self to us. The only appropriate response is for us to give our whole selves to him in return, a maximum response on our part to his maximum gift of self to us. Anything less than a full response to the one who gave his whole life for us is sort of an insult, don't you think? I'd certainly hate to have to defend mediocrity before the judgment seat of God. Sins of omission, the things we fail to do -- God knows what he has given you, and it's from that that he expects a return.
As Jesus said in today's Gospel, "Ephphatha, be opened!" Open not only your ears but also, most importantly, your heart. Open your heart to the Lord and open your heart to those in need. To those who are suffering in any way. Today this includes people fleeing Afghanistan and people suffering from last month’s earthquake in Haiti and last week’s hurricane in Louisiana. It includes the people in the Holy Land who live in very difficult and unjust situations, and it includes the desperate people at our southern border to whom we need to open our hearts more widely and more generously. "Ephphatha!" Open is where the life is.
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Sept. 5.
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