Mark 7: 31–37
Jesus leaves the district of Tyre, and by way of Sidon goes into the district of the Decapolis. People beg him to cure a deaf man with a speech impediment. Jesus puts his finger into the man’s ears, touches the man’s tongue with his spittle, looks up to heaven, groans, and heals the man, saying, “Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”) The people are astonished and say, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and [the] mute speak.”
Mark’s gospel is filled with false expectations, misunderstandings, and rejections of Jesus not only among the people he encounters, but among his own disciples as well. The disciples, even Peter, do not see and do not hear with complete faith, and thus say things that indicate blindness and deafness to the identity and meaning of Jesus. This characteristic of the gospel fits very well with the ancient tradition that Mark wrote his gospel in response to the experience of the church in Rome during the period around A.D. 70. Things were not working out as expected.
The church by this time had been separated from the Jewish community; persecution had heightened under the emperor Nero; Peter and Paul had been executed; the expected return of the Risen Lord to destroy the power of Satan was not happening. Disappointed people were leaving a church that was proclaiming a savior apparently powerless to overcome the evil they were experiencing. Mark realizes that many Christians in that stressful experience did not see, did not hear, did not speak with the power of Christ—their faith was not Christian faith. To address this situation desperately in need of redemption, Mark wrote his gospel in such a way as to highlight the fact that even the first, eye-witness disciples also had false expectations that Jesus did not meet.
Mark’s narrative about the past proclaims the good news today that Jesus has the power to heal our deafness and our blindness so we can speak the truth about him and glorify God without impediment. The power of faith’s hearing and seeing enables us to realize that the only way to share Christ’s resurrection is through sharing Christ’s love, thereby following in his way of the cross. It is only the power of love that conquers evil.
Mark introduces the healing of the deaf man with the speech impediment by telling us that Jesus had left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon into the district of Decapolis. Mark does not explain the odd itinerary—it would be like saying that Jesus went from Pittsburgh to Atlanta by way of Buffalo. Note that he had introduced the previous unit in his gospel about the Gentile woman’s faith by telling us that she lived in the district of Tyre.
The woman clearly got the better of Jesus in their sharp exchange about whether his ministry extended beyond his own Jewish people to the Gentiles. Mark makes a point of reporting that Jesus, in admiration of her faith, did drive the demon out of the woman’s daughter, and immediately went into the district peopled by Gentiles.
Jesus heard God speaking to him through the voice of the Gentile woman that the ministry of divine love is to be extended not only to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles. Now among the Gentiles Jesus hears the people who plead for the cure of the deaf man with a speech impediment. He looks up to heaven, seeing that all his healing power comes from God, and groaning with compassion he speaks the words of love, “Be opened.” Today at our Eucharist we pray for the gift of sharing the faith and compassion of Christ—hearing, seeing, speaking with the power of his Spirit in the particular circumstances of our own lives.
Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.