Print Version September 10th, 2006
It seems likely that that word ephphatha, be opened, was the first thing that man ever heard. That he came to hearing with that as his first word. Wouldn’t it echo in his opened ears for the rest of his life? Wouldn’t that be the word he cherished and held dear and whispered to himself in the middle of the night?
It used to be part of the roman rite of baptism, blowing on the child’s ears and eyes and lips and speaking the word ephphatha. It is the first word of every Christian life: ephphatha, be opened.
Notice it is not ‘open up’ but ‘be opened’. Not something we have to do but something we receive. It is the first gift God gives us and it echoes in our opened ears all life long.
What does it mean to be opened? First on the list is the way we receive the world: to see clearly, to listen sensitively. But it applies to our expression too: ‘the ligament of his tongue was loosened and he spoke’. To be opened is to express oneself openly, freely. The first gift of the Christian life is God opening our hearts and unbinding our tongues.
Opening and unbinding: there’s most of the Good News in a single breath. What is the first thing on God’s mind for each of us and for the world? That we be opened and unbound. That tells us more about God than a whole heap of hearsay.
I have been wanting to say that such a gift imposes an obligation in return. That we too be ones who open and unbind; in what we do and what we say, in how we vote and how we spend our money and our time, in the way we combat closed minds and double-binds wherever we find them.
But of course I’m wrong. There is no such obligation, no responsibility of right-living, no burden of blessing. The first words we heard from God removed all obligation—we are given our freedom freely, as a gift. What we do with it is entirely and wholly up to us.