|AUGUST 2010||DEVOTIONAL MESSAGE||
JESUS SAID "EPHPHATHA!" THAT IS, "BE OPENED"
The cited Gospel Verses are well known to us and we might have read and meditated it repeatedly. According to the Canonical Gospels Jesus carried out a ministry based on itinerant preaching, journeying a vast area of Palestine. In these verses we see that Jesus departed from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon and came to the Sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis. As Jesus passed through the Decapolis, it is imperative that He passed through ten cities on the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire in Judea and Syria. The Gospel accounts witness that Jesus had traversed a vast region of land and contacted many varieties of people during His public mission. If we look through the Biblical Map we come to know that Jesus traveled through many cities and villages and as a usual practice returned to Galilee where He lived for most of His life. At the height of His ministry, Jesus attracted huge crowds numbering in thousands, primarily in the areas of Galilee.
Wherever Jesus went for His mission, a large crowd followed Him. There was no time when the people were not around Him. However, this crowd did not influence Lord unlike those influences our way of life. Nowadays, we consider the yardstick of the success or failure of every social or religious function or any communal act, as the measure of the crowd, the function could attract. We get excited if we can attract a huge crowd. Even the success of Christian convention we measure by, how many people attended the convention! But it was not at all important for Jesus; the size of the crowd surrounded Him. Bartimaeus who sat by the roadside, had to fight the crowd to have a glimpse of Jesus. He succeeded to raise his voice above that of the crowds and eventually Jesus went near him to heal him. Zacchaeus had to climb a sycamore tree to be able to see Jesus who was surrounded by a huge crowd. But Jesus went near the tree, looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house."
When Jesus reached the Sea of Galilee, the people brought to Him a man who was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech Him to put His hands upon him. So the crowd was on one side and the deaf man was on the other. There were a lot of people around when He came back to the coast. It was in an unusual way that Jesus healed the deaf and dumb. Jesus took the man away from the crowd, put His fingers inside the man’s ears. Then He spat and touched the man’s tongue. Next, Jesus raised His glance to Heaven and breathed a deep sigh. He said, “Ephphatha!” that means, “Be opened!” At that instant, the man's ears were opened, his tongue loosened, and he spoke clearly. Jesus asked the people not to tell anyone what happened. But they told everyone.
More than the act of the healing of a man who had an infirmity of sensual organ, the whole story has a deeper dimension with regard to the mission of the Church. The sigh of Jesus was undeniably a human reaction. The creator sighed and groaned displaying His concern for the deformities of the creation. I presume that the expression of the reaction of the God had taken word as “Ephphatha!” Exegetically, one must seek a different meaning of Jesus’ command Ephphatha. The earth He created was beautiful, good and whole. After creating this universe He “saw that it was good”. Touched with the feelings out of the comprehension of the infirmities, deformation, defect, breakage and imperfection of the nature and the entire creation, the creator, Lord Jesus, was forced to make a deep sigh. Jesus had incarnated as the savior, redeemer and deliverer. Jesus commenced to restore the perfection of creation in its original form through the Kingdom of God.
This one long breath of Jesus was a groan. The creator started groaning when he saw the indisposition of the creation. Some thing terrific is happening to our dwelling planet, the earth. It calls for a forthcoming severe danger. Temperature of our land is unbearably increasing day-by-day causing slowly to turn it to a vulnerable and inhabitable environment for human living. The rivers and streams are being dried up. Recently I walked through the bank of a river in North India, which has long been considered as holy and traditional. As it is heard, now the Ganges River has been considered one of the dirtiest rivers in the world. The extreme pollution of the Ganges affects millions of people who live close to the river. There exists a great threat that these rivers will dry up in the course of time due to effects of global warming. Once they vanish, water supplies in those regions will be in peril. Along with ever-increasing pollution in our rivers, water shortages are getting noticeably worse.
The passage of our context from the Gospel according to St. Mark is talking to us in metaphorical terms. Church is a movement for the wholeness in a fragmented world. Church is entrusted with the mission of healing, the mission of compassion, the mission of opening which Lord Jesus Christ has commenced in this world as the ascend of the kingdom of God. The word Ephphatha gives us concept of being loosened from things that cover up or bind affirming and clarifying its theological directive in regards to the mission of the Church. Now the Holy Church is delegated and made accountable to groan for the defacement in the world. We perceive something more in the narration as per the comments of those who witnessed what happened. The assertion; "He has done all things well", echoes the words not only of physical healing but also of spiritual healing.
People need purpose and examples of courage to inspire them to stick to the mission Jesus had commissioned. Pain and suffering are inevitable when one is called to deny oneself, take up the cross, and follow Jesus Christ. I came across such a wonderful person recently who is an example of such a life and who has taken the groan of Jesus with a serious spirit. During the last Deepavali vacation, a special lady was invited as the chief guest of the youth convention in my diocese. I wondered when I saw a young lady with look and attire of a tribal lady sitting near me as the Chief Guest. That was Mercy Mathew who is now popularly known as Daya Bhai.
Mercy Mathew is a graduated middle-aged lady from an affluent family in Palai near Kottayam. In her youth hood she aspired to join a convent and become the bride of Christ. With the blessings of her family she joined a convent in Kerala. Within a few weeks time, she recognized that it is not her right place to identify her quest of life. She became uneasy with the situations and she shared her anxiety to many. But she could not get any clear answer. She left the convent and went to Mumbai for her MSW course. As she was not satisfied there also, she dropped out after the first year and went back to the convent. In the meantime she worked with several charity organizations. After eight years she rejoined to complete her course. She happened to visit a village in interior of Madhya Pradesh as the part of her service project. She identified her life with tribal people as a field of action and she chose to live with the villagers there. All the people in that tribal community were illiterate and poor. She associated with them to develop the living conditions of the rural people.
When the rich and politicians exploited the tribal villagers, she lived with them as one among them emulating with their own look and thoughts and she became the center of hope for them. She has to suffer a lot in the beginning. Her congregation of sisters did not approve her plan to live in a tribal colony. She was considered untouchable and she recollected of it saying, "For the first time, I knew the intensity and shame of being an untouchable". She had to suffer physical assaults from landlords and their criminal associates. Eventually, she started to wear sari as they worn, to eat their type of food and to talk in their dialect. She worked with them in the fields for a low wage. Slowly the tribal community accepted her as part of their community. Now she looks exactly like one among them wearing several stone necklaces and earrings and in a skinny outlook with their own kind of clothing. She is living with them in the tribal colony for last three decades. She does not have any organizational setup. Now she is well integrated with them as a part of that community and works for their welfare and freedom and they fully trust her and call her Daya Bhai.
In the midst of her speech, she talked of an incident when she visited her home in Kerala for the first time after becoming the part and parcel of the tribal community. Her father couldn’t recognize or believe his eyes in seeing his daughter in the complexion and attire of a tribal. Seeing her with some of the teeth fallen and with wrinkles all over her face, her father asked her, “Mercy, was this much necessary in your life?” Pointing her finger to the crucifix on the wall she asked her father, “Was that necessary for the life of Jesus?” When we take the cross of Jesus seriously, the words on the cross echoes again and again.
By the hard work of many years, Daya Bhai could change the face of that tribal colony. Her services are now being well recognized. She has received several awards and honors. Last year Vanitha publication of Malayala Manorama group honored her with "Woman of the Year" award. This year she will receive an award from "Vigil India" movement. Daya Bhai had embraced the groan of her bridegroom, Lord Jesus Christ. She opens the closed lives and irradiates the impediment of illiteracy and continues the opening service and mission of Lord Jesus Christ.
When I went through the tribal colonies in Andhra, Chhattisgarh and Orissa I could get a clear vision of their living style. They pick up burning wood from the deep forest and bring it and sell same in the valley and live out of that income. The grant given by the governmental agencies are very meager. That also does not fully come to the proper hands. There are innumerous people like this throughout India. How a Christian Church delegated for the mission of Christ can turn a blind eye to these people. The destitute live always helpless while rich are prospering more and more.
Contemporary Church also had joined with the crowd, tumult and the clamor. No body really wants to join with the groan of the Lord. Crowd is crucifying the poor, marginalized and the Daliths. How the Church of groaning Jesus can turn away their face to these bruised ones, dictating their doctrines and dogmas. Church should be able to say the word Ephphatha that means 'be opened' and to continue the opening mission of Jesus. If we cannot give food, shelter, education and medical help to these poor tribal communities, we are adrift and that the Church has lost its way and we are on the side of the crowd and not on the side of Jesus. There are innumerous promising children in those tribal colonies. Development through education should be the enlightening motivation of Christian mission.
Abraham Marthoma had once told that the Marthoma people should be spread through out the world and now we are proud that our Church people are extended throughout the world. However, we cannot claim it as a global phenomenon as they are the children of Kerala people themselves migrated to different countries. Now the church has great mission to manifest its view and treatment to reach out to the communities in Northern India and to break the boundaries of Kerala to unite the people of India who are downtrodden and marginalized living in poor and tribal colonies and bring them to the one faith of God. Let the grace of God help us to accomplish our mission to be acclaimed as, “Has done all things well.”
[Extract from Devotional Message delivered at Maramon Convention 2010
Original in Malayalam : Translated for LOL by Editor Dr. Rajan Mathew Philadelphia, USA]
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