It is a long drive to reach Zion National Park. It is seems longer sitting in the backseat. Scenery goes by, you notice lots of RVs and towed trailers heading south – perhaps early migration south. And I do what I do – muse about things.
When people think of the Baptismal rite, the focal point is rightly the sacramental action of the pouring of water and the accompanying words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” I suspect most people do not easily recall what follows. There is an anointing with sacred chrism, words referencing the white garment as a sign of the inward dignity now bestowed, the ceremony in which the Light of Christ is passed from the Easter Candle to the child’s baptismal candle, and the Ephphatha Rite.
The Ephphatha Rite is a wonderful blessing for the ears and the mouth of the child. It asks that their ears be opened that they might heart the Word of God, and their lips be open that they might proclaim that Word into the world.
In the gospel for the 23rd Sunday Jesus comes upon a man who many refer to as the deaf-mute. But that is not what St. Mark describes: “deaf man who had a speech impediment.” But the description in Greek is that he spoke with difficulty. The implication is that he was able to speak at one time. Perhaps the best understanding is that the man had lost his hearing due to accident or disease but not before he had learned and practiced some speech. There is of course the possibility that the accident or disease also affected the speech center of the brain leading to the difficulty.
Speech patterns are not set at one particular point in time. For English-speaking kids here in the United States the /s/ and the /r/ sounds are not typically mastered by the majority of children until the age of 5 or 6. An interrupted development of speech because of hearing loss might well lead to speaking with difficulty as well as limiting the vocabulary. There are many medical possibilities that lend themselves to this story.
Leaving the cases and the man’s plight to those better qualified to speculate, we know that Jesus performed the essence of what we refer to as the Ephphatha rite in which the ears and mouth are blessed that the person might hear and speak well.
At our baptism our ears were opened that we would hear the Word and our mouths blessed that we would speak the Word into the world. In some manner and to some degree each one of us is like the man in the gospel of Mark. Something happened that made us partially deaf or impeded our speech so that we longer hear or speak the Word into the world.
Perhaps we planted ourselves among the bramble of the world and the worries and concerns of the world grew up around us (Mathew 13:7; Mark 4:7)). Maybe we are like the rich young man who heard a word from Jesus that he found too hard and that young man went away sad (Mark 10:17-31, Matthew 19:16-30, Luke 18:18-30). The Pharisees were not evil men and women. They were people seeking holiness in everyday life but were unable to recognize the source of all Holiness among them. Maybe we are the same way?
What is it that makes us hard of hearing? What keeps us silent when there are opportunities to profess faith or to simply give a kind, compassionate word? It is a question that each of us needs to take into prayer and reflection. And when we come up with answers, make changes to our lives. And maybe one other thing – we can’t repeat our baptismal rite, but maybe, from time to time, we need that blessing and to hear the word Ephphatha! Be opened! And perhaps then we will hear and speak the Word into the waiting world.