Home » Gospel Encouragement – 5th September 2021 – 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Encouragement – 5th September 2021 – 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear sisters and brothers,

I was struck by the phrase in this weekend’s first reading: “your God is coming to save you”.  It made me think of different situations where people have a sense of needing to be saved, and what that looks like.  We have the tragic example at the moment of people flooding Kabul airport or pushing their way towards the Pakistani border in order to be saved from those who they think will be their oppressors, if not murderers.  We can think of those who are seriously ill in hospital who are desperately longing for a cure to save them from illness or death.  And we can think, in a far shallower way, of films where people are being saved from a volcano, or a plane crash or even from King Kong!  It could be argued that all of these reflect an inner awareness that we are in need of a saviour, and today, as always, we ponder the truth of Jesus who is the one, true Saviour, but who saves us, ultimately, in a way very different to that which we might have imagined.

All those images that came to my mind, and those which come to your mind as well, ring true.  And today’s Gospel shows us that Jesus does meet people’s very personal needs at times.  Today’s Gospel, which is one of my favourites, is one of those many occasions in Jesus’ earthly ministry when Jesus heals someone.  It’s one of my favourites because of the way he treats the deaf and dumb man: he takes him aside privately, he lovingly touches the man’s ears and tongue, and he speaks one simple word – Ephphatha – be opened!  The whole episode speaks of the gentleness of Jesus, of the way in which he focuses his attention on each and every person and how that gentleness and focus reveals what it truly means to love.  And the fruit of that love is that the man is ‘opened’, not just his tongue and his ears, but his spirit as well.  Jesus heals him physically so that his heart, and the hearts of those who know him, might be opened to the truth and saving power of who Jesus is and, ultimately, to the saving power of the Cross and Resurrection.

All Jesus miracles, whether then or now, are about opening us to the saving power of the Cross.  And yes, miracles take place today.  People are healed regularly at miracle rallies that happen in this country.  I’ve seen a wheelchair bound woman get up and run round an auditorium, healed.  I know of ministries in Africa that see similar healings, plus people being raised from the dead.  There’s no apparent rhyme or reason why God chooses to heal some people and not others, but the reality is that he does.  But he heals them, not so that it’s just a short-term fix, but so that they are ‘opened’ up even more to God’s desire to heal them, and those who witness their healing, spiritually.  In fact, when St Teresa of Calcutta was in Europe, she is reported to have said that there are fewer physical healings in the developed world because there is a greater need for psychological, emotional and spiritual healing here.  These healings may be less visible, but they are none the less real.  And the spiritual openness that grows from witnessing a miracle today, or reflecting on those shared in the Gospels, is to open us up to the ultimate saving power of the Cross and Resurrection.

Jesus’ death on the Cross and his rising to new life is the greatest healing act of all time, because where Jesus has gone, through death into eternal life, he enables us to follow.  Going back – a little cheesily – to my previous analogies, ultimately his death and resurrection airlifts us out of the miseries of this life and helps us across the border to our true homeland in heaven; it heals the brokenness of our relationship with God himself and it saves us from the threat of the evil one, and all who seek to do us harm.  This, and so much more, is what Jesus is saving us from as he prays ‘ephphatha’ over each of us, as he prays that we be opened up to the saving power of his death and resurrection.  Where the people of the Old Testament recognised that their God ‘was’ coming to save them, we know that he ‘has’ come, that he has saved us, and that he continues to save us as we open our lives to him more and more.

With him, we pray for ourselves and for each other: ‘ephphatha’ – be opened.

With every blessing,

Simon (and Deacon Liam)