Updated: Sep 10, 2021
For the month of September, we begin a new message series on: Who is Jesus? Surely, each of us has our own answer to the question given our personal experiences, but today we look at Jesus the Healer.
Ephphatha is a word that fascinates me. It means be opened and is used by Jesus when he heals the deaf man in the gospel. This man, being deaf and unable to speak, resulted in virtual isolation from the community. He was cut off from hearing others and from speaking with others too.
So, when Jesus healed him and spoke the words, be opened, he literally tore down the walls that kept this man from the fullness of a healthy life. The way to life was opened by God. Now, he could hear the laughter, the conversations, the sacred stories after having been blocked from doing so. Now, he could hear the history of God’s loving relationship with Israel, the accounts of God’s action on behalf of His people, he could hear Jesus speak of God’s love for him.
Original sin, described in the book of Genesis, has been the traditional understanding of the cause of our separation from God, the moment the human person isolated himself from the source of life, love and grace. Locked into our own wills and deaf to the voice of God, we can really become self-absorbed and can seem to be unable to break free from the bondage to the self. The result is sin – bringing sadness, fear and anger, and an emotional, spiritual and physical destructiveness inflicted on ourselves and those around us.
To get beyond that, we need the healing touch of Christ – to be healed from our physical, spiritual and emotional brokenness - and to hear the words, be opened! This is a direct command from the Lord and has the power to release us from our bondage to all those things that separate us from God’s love.
At our baptism, the priest or deacon signed our ears and mouth with the cross and announced, Ephphatha. With that sign our ears were opened to hear the word of God and our lips were opened to proclaim, under the power of the Holy Spirit, that Jesus Christ is Lord. Each day we are called to live out the truth of our baptism and nurture the graces of that sacrament.
Saint Bonaventure, in his life of Saint Francis of Assisi, describes how at prayer in a lonely place one day and full of sorrow for his sins, the joy of the Holy Spirit suddenly came upon Francis and his heart was expanded and the horizons of his mind were enlarged. This was an ephphatha moment for Francis when the graces of his baptism flowered freely and abundantly in his spirit. This is the grace we seek – that the spiritual energies in our soul, given to us at baptism and confirmation may be released to flow freely and powerfully within us – and heal us from all of our different infirmities.
We all experience distress in all sorts of ways—as sadness, anxiety, addictions, unproductive obsessions, unwanted compulsions, repetitive self-sabotaging behaviors, physical ailments, boredom, and various angry, bleak, and agitated moods.
What helps relieve this distress? What helps a person to heal? For the believer it’s our faith in Jesus the Healer … a faith that encourages and supports the other resources available to us in this modern age – counseling, medication, self-help groups and the like. While there are plenty of other tips for healing, here I offer just a few:
1. Be yourself
We must be our authentic true ourselves – the person God created in God’s image and likeness. This means asking for what we need in prayer, setting boundaries, having our own beliefs and opinions, standing up for our values, and developing our adult faith life as we listen to the voice of the Lord.
2. Invent yourself
We all come with attributes, capacities and proclivities and we have been molded in a certain environment. But at some point, as well-adjusted adults we must say, Okay, this is what is original to me and this is how I have been formed, but now who do I want to be? We reduce our emotional distress and find healing by deciding to become a person who will experience less distress: a calmer person, a less critical person, a less egoistic person, a more productive person, a less self-abusive person, and so on.
3. Love and be loved
Part of our nature requires solitude, prayer, alone time, and a substantial rugged individualism. But this isn’t the whole story of our nature. We feel happier, warmer and better, live longer, and experience life as more meaningful if we love and let ourselves be loved. The man in the Gospel was unable to love and be loved until the Lord opened his ears and touched his tongue. We must ask for the same.
4. Flip the anxiety switch off
Rampant anxiety ruins our equilibrium, colors our mood, and makes all the already hard tasks of living that much harder. There are many anxiety management strategies we can try—breathing, relaxation, exercise, and so on—but what will make all the difference is if we can locate that “inner switch” that controls our anxious nature and, deciding that we prefer to live more calmly, flip it to the off position.
5. Deal with circumstances
Circumstances matter. Our economic circumstances matter; our relationships matter; our work conditions matter; our health matters; whether our nation is at peace or occupied by invaders matters. Many circumstances are completely out of our control, but many are within our control. We can change jobs or careers, we can end a relationship, we can reduce our calorie intake, we can stand up or keep quiet, we can do exactly as much as we can do to improve our circumstances. As a result of those improvements, we will feel better. Healing requires that we rely on our faith while we take real action in the real world.
Isaiah the prophet reassures us in quoting the LORD who said:
Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God, he comes with vindication.
With divine recompense he comes to save you.
It’s the message to each us from Jesus the Healer – be strong, fear not, our God comes to save us.
Spiritual writer CS Lewis once said:
You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending!
Find comfort in those words … as we begin anew …