Thus says the Lord: Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, He comes with vindication; with divine recompense He comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing; Streams will burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe. The burning sands will become pools, and the thirsty ground, springs of water.(P) The word of the Lord.
The God of Jacob keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets captives free. (R)
The Lord gives sight to the blind; the Lord raises up those who were bowed down. The Lord loves the just; the Lord protects strangers. (R)
The fatherless and the widow the Lord sustains, but the way of the wicked He thwarts. The Lord shall reign forever; your God, O Zion, through all generations Alleluia. (R)
My brothers and sisters, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. For if a man with gold rings and fine clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say, "Sit here, please", while you say to the poor one, "Stand there", or "Sit at my feet", have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs?
Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. 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?(P) The word of the Lord.
Again Jesus left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis. And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him. He told him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man's ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, "Ephphatha!" - that is, "Be opened!" And immediately the man's ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly. He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it. They were exceedingly astonished and they said, "He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
Today we continue reading Mark's gospel. You may recall that in last week's gospel, we read about a dispute between Jesus and the Pharisees plus the Scribes over the washing of hands. They had seen some of Jesus' disciples eating with unwashed hands, and complained to Jesus that the disciples did not follow the Jewish ritual of hand washing before eating. In response, Jesus called both the Pharisees and Scribes hypocrites, quoting the Prophet Isaiah and saying that they were merely honouring God with their lips when their hearts were far from Him. Then, He further told them that true defilement comes from within and not from outside, Mark (7:1-23). This was a reminder to all that the Lord delights far more in obedience to His commands than in the performance of rituals and ceremonies, 1 Samuel (15:22). He looks more at the heart than the outward appearance and works in "strange" and "mysterious" ways, 1 Samuel (16:7).
After this dispute, Jesus and His disciples withdrew from Galilee and moved on to the gentile regions of Tyre and Sidon, Mark (7:24). Both these places are now located in Lebanon. Mark does not explain why Jesus went there at this time. There were probably many reasons. One reason could be that Jesus was tired, and He wanted to rest along with His disciples. Another reason could be that He wanted to avoid further conflicts with the Pharisees in Galilee or evade being captured by Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, who believed that Jesus was John the Baptist, his old enemy, who came back to life, and was looking for Him.
The other reason could be that He wanted others to know that not only the Jews but also the gentiles, whom most Jews looked down upon and considered also unclean, are also called to be part of the people of God. Surprisingly, the supposedly friendly territory of Galilee was hostile towards Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, because of the evil influence of corrupt religious leaders, such as the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes. Whereas, the regions of Tyre and Sidon, which should have been hostile to Jesus because of the long history of paganism and opposition to the Jews, had ended up being much friendlier to him.
While Jesus was in the area of Tyre, He was approached by a Greek woman, who was born in Syrian Phoenicia, and had cried out to Him to heal her daughter, who was possessed by a demon. Jesus rejected her request at first, by telling her that He cannot take the bread that belonged to the children and give it to the dogs, Mark (7:27). Simply put, He told her that she was a non-Jew or a gentile, and He could give the "bread" - Jesus referred to himself as bread - only to the Jews. But one may be startled that Jesus referred to this gentile woman as a dog.
Jews commonly referred to themselves as God's people and to the gentiles as dogs, which was considered an insult. Jesus repeated this well-known scornful saying to test the woman's faith. Despite the insult, however, the woman persisted in her request for her daughter's deliverance. Impressed by the woman's perseverance and faith, Jesus relented and cured her daughter. (We did not read the story in this liturgical year. As the same story is recorded in Matthew, we will study this in detail next year.)
Shortly after this miracle, as we read in today's text, Jesus again departed from the area of Tyre, passed through Sidon and went toward the Sea of Galilee, the area where he carried out much of his public ministry. Mark does not mention the exact route which Jesus took to get from Tyre and Sidon to the Sea of Galilee. Some scholars think that Jesus travelled through Damascus in Southern Syria, crossed the Jordan and, thence, came to Decapolis which bordered on the southeast shore of the Sea of Galilee. The word "Decapolis" means "Ten cities". It was a league of ten Greek cities in Palestine. From the days of Alexander the Great, there were Greek cities in Palestine, (356-323 BC).
Mark writes that, as Jesus made his way through the region of Decapolis, some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could barely speak, and then asked Him to touch the man. The man's speech impediment was probably tied to his deafness, given that we develop our speech through our hearing. Jesus took the man away from the crowd. We are not told why Jesus took him away from everybody else. There is certainly more than one reason for Jesus to have done this.
Jesus may have desired to avoid embarrassment to the man because deaf people usually find it uncomfortable trying to converse in close physical proximity. Or Jesus wanted to gain some privacy and help the man in the kindest way possible. Apparently, what was about to happen demanded such privacy. Or Jesus took the man away from the interruption of a noisy and pressing crowd so that he could carefully observe the healing process and quietly receive the spiritual blessings Jesus would bring to him.
All those who approached Jesus, that is, the sick and those who brought the sick to Jesus for healing, exhibited their faith in some form or another. Some people, like the woman who believed that she would be healed just by touching Jesus' garments acted in faith, Matthew (9:20). Some others, like the two blind men who cried out to Jesus to heal them and, then replied to Jesus' question, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" with outstanding faith by declaring, "Yes, Lord" verbally declared their faith, Matthew (9:27-28). And Jesus commended the faith of such people and rewarded them.
In the same way, believing in the power of Jesus over diseases and demons, some people had brought the deaf-mute man in the story, for healing. This man also had faith. Obviously, he did not and could not profess that faith orally. He could not hear the good news about Jesus, nor could he speak the language of faith like others, to get his healing. But he had his sight. Jesus, therefore, used the sign language, that is, the complex visual-spatial language used by people who are deaf-mute, to heal the man.
Once they were alone, Jesus put his fingers in the man's ears and then touched the man's tongue with his own spittle. This gesture may seem to us bizarre, weird and perplexing but the Bible says that God healed people in many different ways, through many different methods. No matter how strange this was, the man let Jesus do it. He did not say, "I don't want your dirty fingers in my ears and I don't want your spit on my tongue." No. He let Jesus do it His way. Obviously, He needed the healing, and Jesus did what was necessary for the man to be healed.
But there was actually something more that Jesus wanted to reveal. Looking up to heaven, Jesus said, "Ephphatha!" which literally means, "Be opened!" It was to show the afflicted man that the healing power was the gift of God, and that Jesus belonged to heaven and would lead him to God and to the heavenly life. At this, the formerly deaf-mute man was able to clearly speak despite having never heard a spoken word in his life, Mark (7:35).
In a strange twist, the healed man and all witnesses to the healing were commanded by Jesus to remain silent about the miracle. Jesus may have desired to help the newly-healed man avoid becoming a curiosity. But family and friends, who had shared his afflictions and communicated with signs, were astounded and could not keep quiet as Jesus requested. They spread the word about Jesus healing him and Jesus' reputation grew as the one who fulfilled the prophesy of Isaiah eight hundred years before Jesus, "He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak", Isaiah (35:5-6).
What does this story teach us today?
We shall pray that we may be filled with the words that speak of God's glory and splendor and the words that uplift and bring grace to others, Ephesians (4:29). We shall pray for the healing of both our spiritual deafness and muteness.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!