Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Sept. 6, 2009

We live in a world and in times which tend to be exclusivistic. Groups and communities tend to exclude each other out. Different forms of boundaries, whether physical, psychological, economic, racial, religious and so many others, differentiate and exclude people for a variety of reasons, real or imagined. In many cultures, poverty is an almost automatic door closer to so many opportunities: a good education, for one, which leads to better opportunities, which lead to greater chances of creating wealth, finding the right connections, and getting the best that society can offer.

For so many people in the world, through no fault of their own, it is simply a closed world, a world characterized by a multiplicity of closed doors and barred opportunities.

There is good news today for all on both sides of such closed doors – those who shut them tight to others, and those who feel left out in the lurch. It is good news to those who can’t seem to understand that nothing, and no one, in this whole created world courtesy of a good and loving God, had been preprogrammed to be evil and to do evil, and therefore, to be avoided, left out, and driven away. It is good news to those who still need to get the full impact of what the book of Genesis speaks about: “God looked at His handiwork, and saw that it was good.” It is good news to those who still hesitate to accept the glaring fact that God, in Jesus, indeed, “has done all things well.” Said good news is precisely what it is for those who still languish in hopelessness and cynicism about most everything that takes place in the world, steeped in so much violence and terrorism from just about anyone and everyone in the whole broad spectrum of humanity. There is evil in the world, alright. That is the bad news. But it is more than off-set by the more powerful news that says, “He has done all things well!”

Indeed, if one goes by the evidence of Scripture for today, God has done all things well … well enough, in fact, for us to rightly utter in response to the first reading: “Praise the Lord, my soul!” And why not? There is a whole lot of good news to the “frightened of heart,” For the Lord “comes with vindication; with divine recompense; he comes to save [us].” The first reading speaks of symbolic visions: “the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf [will] be cleared.” All prophecies of the Old Testament point to a totally renewed time of recompense from the Lord who “keeps faith forever.”

This is good news for everyone, but most especially for those on the other side of the closed door: the blind, the deaf, those who are bowed down, the fatherless and the widow, the poor and the helpless. “Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him?”

But I would like to suggest that there is an even better news for all, no matter which side of the door we are in. That good news is what is suggested by all three readings. That good salvific news is what our Lord Jesus Christ tells us now – that life and its meaning is no longer about being on either side, but all about living and working and behaving like as if there were no doors that divide and separate people among themselves and from one another.

This better news for people on both sides has to do with opening up. The rich could be snobbish with their high education and the fineries of social graces. But the poor could also be pretentious, grabbing, and downright obnoxious in many ways. Closing doors to other people is not a monopoly of either camps. We all – rich or poor alike – are caught up in this web of so much mistrust, biases, prejudices, and dislike for each other. It does not really matter which side of the door we are in. Both sides are guilty of closing themselves off to each other. When one builds a fence, in fact, it is either we are fencing oneself in or fencing others out. Either way, the result is the same: closedness, being rapt up in one’s own cocoon, being closed in on one’s private world marked by indifference and characterized by a lot of uncaring ways.

The Lord today shows us concretely the way. He went to the district of the Decapolis, assuredly not a very sympathetic place to him and his teachings (read: closed). But it was in that very place that he brought and gave the gift of openness. It was there that he cured the deaf-man and opened his ears and primed his speech. Ephphata (Be opened) was his booming command. And his command became reality right then and there.

We have to find out the so many manifestations of closedness in our personal and communal lives. We all are that deaf and dumb man who needs to be opened and primed to hear and speak. To use Biblical terms, we all need to “taste and see the goodness of the Lord,” and allow ourselves to be primed to “proclaim” His goodness. There is in each of us a bit (or a whole lot) of that deafness and dumbness deep within, as when we hesitate to be seen praying in public, for one, or when we become tongue-tied when the topic of discussion is about the presence and activity of God in our own personal lives. There is that deafness in all of us as shown particularly in our hesitation to give full credence and belief to the teachings of the Church as presented by the Holy Father in matters of faith and morals. There is that deafness in us when we think priests and bishops ought to keep their activity within the confines of the sacristy, and not be heard about politics as a moral issue, even if, for all practical purposes, politics in many countries (and elections in the Philippines) are patently a case of structural evil in concrete. And there is that dumbness in us every time we just keep our mouths shut even if evil is happening right before the tips of our noses.

Ephphatha is not an empty command from the Lord. It is as much a wish as a command from Him who has done all things well. We do have to allow Him to complete the good He has begun in us and through us. He can continue to do well now only if we allow Him to work in us and through us. Needless to say, it means only one simple thing: we also have to do well, not only to do good, but to do well. A whole lot of do-gooders who do good to meet their own needs can spoil and blur this whisper of a command from the Lord. When we do good, we need to do it for the right reasons, the right motives, the right intentions. Only then can we say, we do well, together with Christ, for the sake of Christ, in the name of Christ, who “did all things well.”

Ephphatha! Open up to the Lord, and open up to others … and be part of the Good News to a closed world!