From somber warnings to saving deeds.
The Gospel last Sunday returned to our reading from Mark’s Gospel. While last Sunday’s readings sounded somber warnings, today’s readings celebrate the saving deeds of God.
Mark’s Gospel is structured in a number of ways. In broad strokes it has three parts, 1) The Galilee section heavy in miracles and featuring a number of crossings of the Lake of Galilee; 2) the Way section, Jesus journeying from the North (Galilee) toward the South (Jerusalem); 3) and finally Jesus last days in Jerusalem.
Today’s Gospel passage is a hinge passage. It is the last of several miracle stories showing how Jesus wishes to include people, not exclude them. In our Sunday readings we heard the healing of the woman with the issue of blood (though considered unclean she approached and touched the hem of Jesus’ cloak) and the healing of the daughter of Jairus (a Jew). In the Marcan cycle we don’t read the wonderful story of the woman living in the territory of Tyre and Sidon (described clearly as an outsider, Greek–a Syro-Phoenician by birth) who approaches Jesus to have her daughter healed of an unclean spirit. Today we heard the story of a deaf man with a speech impediment. This man lived outside Jewish territory in the region of the ten cities.
But the hinge not only swings back it springs forward. This story is the first of four healings in the discipleship catechism section which follows. The focus switches to the struggle within the community for faith. It is the first of four healings referring to blindness/deafness (seeing and hearing). 1) The healing of this deaf man with the speech impediment is followed by 2) the healing of the blind man of Bethsaida, 3) the exorcism of the son possessed by a mute spirit who works havoc on him, 4) and finally the healing of Blind Bartimaeus.
Immediately after this healing of the deaf man with the speech impediment Mark presents Jesus feeding four thousand people. The Pharisees ask for a sign and Jesus “with a sigh from the depths of his spirit” asks “why does this age seek a sign?” He tells them no such sign will be given and abruptly gets into a boat to go to the other side of the lake. (In the healing of the deaf man Mark told us, “Jesus looked up to heaven and emitted a groan”. The same Greek word is used to describe Jesus’ frustration.) On the boat trip Jesus expresses his frustration this way: “Do you still not see or comprehend? Are your minds completely blinded? Have you eyes but no sight? Ears but no hearing?”
In Mark’s Gospel the portrayal of the Apostles is getting progressively worse. In the first section of the Gospels they “misunderstand.” In this middle section they “do not understand.” In the last section of the Gospel they will “disappear completely”. But Mark offsets this negative picture of the apostles with the positive hope contained in the miracles that those who are deaf and dumb and blind become able to hear and speak and see.
In today’s Gospel “some people brought him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay hands on him.” Previously in Mark’s Gospel, Jairus came seeking help for his daughter. The woman with the flow of blood approached Jesus directly. The Syro-Phoenician woman “approached him and crouched at his feet” she begged Jesus to expel the demon from her young daughter. After this incident , at Bethsaida, “some people brought him a blind man and begged him to touch him.” The man whose son was possessed by a mute spirit first looked for help from the Apostles. They were not able. Then he brought him to Jesus. The middle section of Mark’s Gospel is then framed by the story of Blind Bartimaeus. He calls out, “Jesus son of David have pity on me”. After being scolded he shouted out all the louder.
These miracle stories present us people with different needs. Some come to Jesus directly, others are brought by other people.
Picture yourself encountering Jesus, perhaps face to face, perhaps being brought by someone else. What are you looking for from Jesus? In what way does Jesus touch you? Do you receive a gentle pat on the back to encourage you? Does Jesus perhaps with his hands directly on your shoulders, look you directly in the eyes in order to get your attention? Does he perhaps cradle your face in his hands with compassion because you have been left out or rejected? How does Jesus approach you? Stay with this image for a time. Ask Jesus to show you someone who needs to be touched in some way or another.
Ephphatha! (that is, “Be opened!” ) “Jesus took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his fingers into the man’s ears and spitting touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and emitted a groan. He said to him Ephphatha! that is, “Be opened!. It would seem to me that Jesus took him off by himself away from the crowd because of Jesus’ sensitivity to the actions he would perform. These would much better be done in private. Perhaps this is also a continuation of the “Messianic Secret.”
Let us each be taken aside by Jesus. He treats each person as they need. How would Jesus touch me now? To what is Jesus saying to me, “BE OPENED”? Is there something in my life that Jesus wants to be an eye opening and ear opening reality in my life?