I. An “impediment” is, literally, something that gets in the way of our feet—our “pedi,” in Latin (pedal, pedestrian, pedicure). Jesus poked, spat, and groaned to heal the man with hearing and speech impediments. Back in the olden days, when some of you were baptized, the priest reenacted, to a certain degree, Jesus’ hands-on healing. The priest stuck his fingers into your ears and put salt on your tongue, and said: “Ephphatha—Be opened!” But, more than difficulties with hearing or speaking, Isaiah maintains that our real impediment in proclaiming and living God, is fear: a lack of faith. We’re afraid that the grand hopes that Isaiah sings of today can never come to be. Fear impedes us from stepping into the future; it paralyzes us; it gets in the way of our feet.
II. Poet Rainer Rilke says that an infant’s journey into human awareness, its rescue from fear, and from what he calls the “surging abyss,” depends on hearing the mother’s voice: her loving sounds and gentle cadence, her coaxing words, her verbal caresses.
Christianity is a particular kind of language: a “mother tongue.” More than mere instruction, Christianity’s most enduring outcomes are the effects of words and works that encourage and edify. Theology is great—but paramount is Jesus’ voice: his loving sounds and gentle cadence, his coaxing words, his verbal caresses.
III. With a moan and a touch, Jesus shares his steady, gentle strength with the man in today’s gospel, opening the man’s ears, loosening his tongue, lessening his fear. Likewise, with tender words and compassionate companions, a Spirit-filled piece of bread and sip of wine, Jesus shares that same gentle strength with us—restoring, reassuring, reconciling. He opens our ears, our minds and hearts, loosens our tongues, lessens our fear. He rescues us from the “surging abyss.”
“Ephphatha! Be opened!”