is Aramaic, not Hebrew but a related Semitic language commonly spoken in the
New Testament world; not Greek either, of course, but translated into Greek
in Mark’s Gospel. “Be opened” is the English translation of the
Greek translation of this Aramaic word related to the Hebrew language of the
Jewish or Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, as Christians refer to it.
pedantic display of some utterly esoteric and totally useless bit of
knowledge? No. There is, I think, something rather profound and
at least philosophically suggestive about what is presented in the texts
which are set before us. For example, Judaism and Christianity, as
distinct from Islam on this point, allow for the translation of their Holy
Scriptures into languages other than the original. For Islam, on the
other hand, the Qu’ran is only the Qu’ran when it is in
Arabic. It is not the Qu’ran when translated into some other
language. It is, in principle, we might say, untranslatable.
This implies an entirely different philosophic sensibility about the text.
and, to an even greater extent, for Christianity, the mere positivity of the
text, the Scripture in its simple giveness, gives way more directly to its
philosophical meaning. Honouring the text means being open to the
understanding, the understanding which cannot remain captive to one
human language but is capable of being conveyed successively from one
language to another even across the seas of culture. Somehow the
language of God can be revealed through those many tongues – the tongues of
many nations at Pentecost – which are all one in singing the praises of God,
the God who is not the projection of human hopes and aspirations but the God
who has entered into the tragedy of the human condition bringing hope and
glory, healing and salvation.
important and difficult questions about translation. What do we mean
by translation? Is translation treason, a traducing or betrayal of a
text, as some would suggest, implying, at the very least, that something of
the original is always and invariably lost in translation? Is
translation merely interpretation, as others would suggest, thereby
advancing a cynical viewpoint or, at the very least, a kind of skepticism
about the possibility of capturing in one language the thought and ideas of
another? The danger is that everything then becomes relative to the
reader and the text itself is essentially lost to view. Or literature
becomes an instrument in the politics of power.
Reading Lolita in Tehran chronicles the story of a woman
professor of English literature’s persistence in continuing to read and
teach under the oppressive tyranny of a totalitarian regime that has
subordinated religion, in this case, Islam, to its ideological goals.
The story demonstrates, to my mind, the liberating power of literature which
crosses, even as it challenges, cultural boundaries. There can be
“a cultural translation” even under the least auspicious of
In her story
what comes out is the deeper understanding of such works as Nabokov’s
Lolita, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Henry James’
Daisy Miller & Washington Square, and Jane Austen’s
Pride and Prejudice, works which were regarded as subversive
and were proscribed as subversive precisely because they are not read openly
but only on a shallow and superficial level. The deeper reading that
Nafisi encourages brings out the profounder understanding of such works than
the easy dismissal of them as examples of western decadence.
Lolita, for example, is not about pornography but about the far more
serious problem of “the usurpation of another person’s life”.
The Great Gatsby is put on trial in her class to show how it
is actually a critique of the “carelessness” of a rich and decadent
culture, America, from within America and that the biggest sin is the lack
of empathy. “The biggest sin is to be blind to others’ problems and
pains. Not seeing them means denying their existence”. The
problem, we might say, lies precisely in not being open to the text in its
suggests a similar positive view of translation. Perhaps, just
perhaps, there can be a gain and not just a loss in translation, the
capturing in another language of a nuance or an emphasis which helps to
deepen the understanding even across the vast divides of culture. And
indeed, perhaps, there is even the understanding itself which transcends the
mere positivism of language and culture. The Greek word here –
διανοιχθητι from διανοιγω – appears frequently in the Septuagint,
the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, and invariably in
the context of the opening of the eyes or the ears or the mouth to receive
the Word of God which speaks to the heart and the mind of our humanity.
The emphasis is very much on the understanding, upon what is grasped by
heart and mind.
Israel” is one of the most frequently repeated exhortations in the
Scriptures. God repeatedly calls to Israel to attend to his creative
and redemptive word in the face of our unwillingness and our stubborn
refusals to see and to ear. “Ears have they and hear not, eyes have
they and see not” describes not only the idols fashioned out of the vain
imaginations of our hearts, things which we make literally with our hands,
but also the vanity of ourselves in the hardness of our hearts that are
closed to the things of God.
“Be opened”, Jesus says in a context which conveys sacramental overtones
– the action of touching the man’s ears and his tongue effect what they
signify, namely, the opening of his ears and the loosening of his tongue.
Equally, the entire scene invokes the whole pageant of God’s creative and
redemptive work in the mind of the multitude who are the witnesses to this
healing. “Be opened” to what we may ask? To the one who
“hath done all things well”, it is said, to the God who made the
world and all that is in it and “behold, it was good” and behold, the
whole of it was “very good”. Here that superlative quality of
divine action in creation is invoked in a divine act of redemption.
“And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was
loosed, and he spake plain”. And the multitude, too, is opened to
the presence of the glory of God in their midst. A host of prophecies
about the healing and the restoration of our wounded and broken humanity
have their realization in the actions of Jesus who “maketh both the deaf
to hear and the dumb to speak”. His actions reveal God in their
reading makes the doctrinal claim which has its fitting illustration in the
gospel. The ministration of the spirit is more glorious than the
ministration of the law. The contrast is between life and death.
The law, meaning the covenantal bond between God and man, has become, as
Paul puts it, “the ministration of death written and engraven in stones”.
There is something glorious about the law, to be sure – it is the revelation
of God’s will after all – but it convicts us, condemns us in the realization
that we are not what we should be. We are not right with God.
That realization is a kind of death because we cannot make ourselves right
with God. We have no sufficiency of ourselves. Far more glorious
is “the ministration of righteousness” since we are opened out to the
righteousness of Christ, the one who makes us right with God and who raises
us into the life of God, if we have “the ears to ear and the eyes to see”
and “the tongues” to proclaim his truth and his righteousness.
In Jesus Christ we are opened to the glory of God in our midst.
We are opened
to the glory of God because that glory wills to be open towards us.
Such is grace. The Collect captures this further sense that our
hearing God radically depends upon God’s hearing us, the God who is
“always more ready to hear than we to pray”. The inmost thoughts
and desires of our hearts and minds are more transparent to God than to
ourselves. In the actions of Jesus, “looking up to heaven” and
“sigh[ing]” and “sa[ying]”… “ephphatha,” we are made
aware of the intimacy of the Son and the Father in the bond of the Holy
Spirit into which intimacy we are gathered through prayer and praise in the
Word proclaimed and the Sacraments celebrated. It is wanted that we
should be open to the God who is open to us and who has revealed his glory.
As Irenaeus so wonderfully puts it, “the glory of God is mankind
restored.” And to that end, “ephphatha.”
In the sultry
heat of the closing down of summer, we are bidden to “be opened”, not
closed, to the things of God revealed in our very midst. Here in the
liturgy of Word and Sacrament, he “maketh both the deaf to hear and the
dumb to speak”.