Jesus stuck his fingers in the guy’s ears, and spit on his tongue. Gross. But then he spoke. Ephphatha – “be opened” – and his ears were opened and he began to speak. Many of Jesus’ healing stories are like this. Healing of people who have lost senses: blind, deaf, silenced, immobile. I wonder, where does this healing happen today?
Too often our own eyes are closed. We look the other way in the face of poverty or injustice in our broken world. Our ears are closed. We are not listening – to the cries of the oppressed, to the needs of others, to each other even. We are not speaking words of forgiveness and love. Our hearts themselves are often closed, protecting us from the hurt, anger, fear, or judgment that burden us.
And so Jesus words “be opened” are to all of us. A whole world of people in need of being healed and opened to the love and grace of God.
The Syrophoenician woman asks for this healing. She begs for it actually. But she is an outsider. The bottom of society. If anyone is in need of “ephphatha” it is this woman, because every door to opportunity has been closed for her. Even Jesus at first denies her request: her needs are not as important as the insiders’, and she is dismissed with a derogatory ethnic slur.
Who are the “dogs” of our society? The ones whose needs don’t matter as much as our own? Who is getting derogatory slurs thrown at them, with no one listening to their cases or caring about their needs or their struggles. Bullied teens? The single mother of three waiting for the bus to take her to a minimum-wage job? Those whose sexual orientation makes them a target of hate and discrimination? The soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder? African Americans, who can’t even seem to convince people that their lives matter? As the system slants ever more towards favoring some while denying others, people of faith need to be mindful of people who are like the Syrophoenician woman in this story: silenced, invisible, oppressed and dismissed.
And the power of the story of this woman is that she refuses to be dismissed. She refuses to be silenced. Her mouth and eyes and ears are not closed: she speaks, and insists that her life matters. Her needs matter. Although she is an outsider-an outcast-she is worthy of dignity, and love, and respect and justice. She is worthy of God’s grace.
Ironically, James insists that it is we who are unworthy. Righteousness before God doesn’t come from belonging to the right group, or having money or social status, but by obeying God’s law. And we begin every day confessing that we have fallen short. Our eyes and ears have been closed. On matters of injustice, we have been silent. In short we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
Yet despite our sin, we are bold to stand before God, begging for healing and forgiveness. We beg for crumbs at the table. We stand with the Syrophonecian woman, the outcasts, the dogs, and we will not be dismissed.
And here’s the best part: like in the story of the woman, we are healed. We are forgiven. We are opened. We are fed. We are welcomed. We are loved, just as we are, even despite what we are.
So come to the table and eat the crumbs. Be healed, be whole. Be washed of distinctions. God shows no partiality. Be made clean and new in the flowing waters of baptism.
And be opened. Ephphatha. Be opened to loving others, and loving yourself. Be opened to seeing yourself in the face of those in need. Be opened to seeing God’s grace and goodness in the world. Have your ears and eyes opened to see and hear the cries of others, and to see them as God’s beloved children. Have your mouths opened to speak words of love, and forgiveness and justice: to speak out against hate and fear and self-righteousness. Be opened to receiving God’s love and grace at every turn, in the most surprising places. Be forgiven. Be whole. Be free-to love and rejoice and live. By the grace and love of God, be opened.