Godspel Reading: Mark 7: 31-37
31Returning from the district of Tyre, Jesus went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, right through the Decapolis region.32And they brought him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they asked him to lay his hand on him. 33He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, put his fingers into the man’s ears and touched his tongue with spittle. 34Then looking up to heaven he sighed; and he said to him, “Ephphata”, that is “Be opened”. 35And his ears were opened, and the ligament of his tongue was loosened and he spoke clearly. 36And Jesus ordered them to tell on one about, it, but the more he insisted, the more widely they published it. 37Their admiration was unbounded. “he has done all things well, “ they said; “ he makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.”
HISTORICAL SITUATION MARK 7: 31-37
Where did this take place? Tyre and Sidon were cities to north west of the Sea of Galilee. The Decapolis was a confederation of ten cities, north east of the Jordan river in New Testament Palestine and was predominately Gentile. Jesus took a circuitous route to reach the Sea of Galilee and in so doing travelled through Gentile territory.
When did this take place?
This happened after the encounter between Jesus and the Syro-phoenician woman. Driven by her concern for the suffering of her daughter this fantastic woman, with great courage, faith, and boldness, challenged an apparently parochial Jesus to broaden the understanding of his mission so as to include the Gentile world, and he acceded.
Who was there?
“They” – Gentiles, possibly friends or acquaintances of the deaf man who would have heard about Jesus’ reputation. It was “they” who brought the deaf man to Jesus – without them this encounter may never have happened.
“A deaf man”– the man’s physical affliction – deafness and speech impediment – condemned him to loneliness, isolation, frustration and marginalisation in his community. He was shut out from employment and normal social interaction. His position was even worse than that of the lepers who at least had each other in their colonies. He was excluded from ordinary social conversation and was consigned to the margins.
Jesus: the man of active compassion who is drawn to his suffering brothers and sisters. Deeply moved by the terrible affliction and suffering of the deaf man Jesus yearned to bring healing and peace.
After the man was brought to him Jesus responded with enormous sensitivity and compassion. To protect him from further humiliation, “he took him aside in private” and created a space where he could be alone with him safe from the glare of others. This also allowed for a more personal encounter – the deaf mute was fully present to Jesus and Jesus was fully present to him. In that intimate encounter, Jesus reached out by word and touch. The touching expressed acceptance, tenderness, warmth and appreciation of his dignity. By “sighing” Jesus identified with his pain, entered into it, shared it. By looking up to heaven, Jesus in his humility recognised that the source of his own healing power came from the Father. Jesus was convinced of the power and gift of touch to comfort, to restore and to heal. And so he put his fingers in the deaf man’s ears and touched his tongue with spittle. Saliva was considered to have healing properties Jesus, then, spoke to the man in Aramaic “Ephphata” – “Be opened”- the deaf man’s ears were opened to hear and to a new engagement with the world around him. He could now reconnect with everyday life – Jesus drew him out of his isolation and despair, opening him to a fuller, healthier and freer life. His heart had been opened to a new trust in God.
THIS RESONATES WITH THE FIRST READING FROM THE PROPHET ISAIAH –
“Courage! Do not be afraid.
…Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
the ears of the deaf unsealed,
then the lame shall leap like a deer
and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy”
“Jesus ordered them to tell no-one” – and he went even further and “insisted” so – probably seeking to avoid misunderstanding or misinterpretation. In this particular incident the saving power of God produced immediate and instantaneous results. Jesus knew that this was more the exception than the norm. In human life, with its own natural laws and principles, the saving power of God, more often than not, leads to slow and gradual restoration and transformation. In this way the miracles were to be understood more as a “sign” of the eventual victory of God’s love in bringing wholeness, happiness and fulfilment to a broken humanity.
Understandably the witnesses could not contain their wonder and amazement at what had happened..
Can you remember experiences of helplessness and hopelessness when others –“they”- family, friend, associate, stranger responded to your needs and put you in touch with those who were in a position to help.
Remember a experience in your life of isolation, exclusion and frustration. Remember the inability to communicate, to connect, to engage…and the consequent fear, loneliness and desperation. Remember the people who noticed our plight and reached out to us.
Who were the Jesus people who responded with remarkable sensitivity and discretion, who ministered to us with great tenderness and reverence – touch, gestures, words, kindness – and restored our faith in God, in ourselves, and in our future?
Remember a time when we were deeply moved by the affliction and isolation of others and our hearts were moved to protect the individual from humiliation – “taking them aside in private away from the crowd”. A time when we gave of ourselves physically and emotionally to others – putting our fingers in the ears and spittle on the tongue- seeking to reassure, comfort and restore a sense of dignity, hope and value. When we said “to all faint hearts, Courage! Do not be afraid. Look your God is coming”. (First Reading).