September 6, 2015
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
31 Again he left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis. 32 And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man's ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; 34 then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, "Ephphatha!" (that is, "Be opened!") 35 And (immediately) the man's ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly. 36 He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it. 37 They were exceedingly astonished and they said, "He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and (the) mute speak."
Last week the gospel text began with the Pharisees from Jerusalem questioning Jesus about why his disciples disregarded the ritual washing of hands before eating. At the end of that text, Jesus tells his disciples that impurity comes from within a person, not from the outside. As Mark unfolds his gospel he then describes Jesus’ interaction with a Greek woman who begged Jesus to free her daughter from an unclean spirit. Jesus resists her request because of her ancestry, but her faith and persistence persuade Jesus to respond, and he heals her daughter. (Mark 8: 24-30) Jesus’ interaction with the Syrophoenician (Greek) woman and the cure of her daughter precede Jesus’ interaction with the deaf man in the text for this week.
In the first verse of this week’s text, Mark describes Jesus’ travel route from Tyre to the Decapolis. The route is unusual. It indicates that Jesus traveled out of his way north to Sidon, then turned back south and ended up even further south than when he had begun. This route places Jesus clearly in the midst of Gentile communities. By taking the time to describe Jesus’ travel route, Mark intends to make his readers aware that Jesus went out of his way to take this route. Even if there is ritual impurity associated with contact with Gentiles, Jesus is not letting this deter him from traveling where he feels he needs to go.
Mark’s description of the healing is distinct in that it is a typical story of healers of the day. The other gospel writers prefer to portray Jesus as healing by word alone, representing a more direct connection to the power of God. The “miracle workers” of the day touched the sick person, sometimes used a potion or saliva in the healing, and used some type of sound or incantations in foreign tongues. The use of saliva was understood in Jesus’ culture to contain some of the personal power of the healer. Spitting was associated with confronting evil. His “looking up to heaven and groaning” could easily be understood as a prayer. Here Jesus is portrayed as using traditional cultural ways of healing, compared with the ways he is portrayed as healing in other places in the gospels. His manner here bridges the culture of the gentiles and his own culture.
This account is also unique in that Jesus is healing someone who is deaf. Hearing, in a primarily oral culture, is extremely important. Those who cannot hear are at a great disadvantage and are ostracized. Being open to God was expressed as “listening to God.” Jesus’ own ministry was largely one of teaching about the Reign of God. When Jesus encounters this man, he takes him away from the crowd so they are by themselves. He does not lay his hands on him, but rather puts his fingers into his ears and, with his own saliva, touches his tongue. He commands that they “be open” and immediately they are. Mark’s description includes these more intimate details that are not included in other descriptions.
It is also worth noting that next week the gospel text will be Mark 8:27-35. In this familiar text, Jesus will ask the disciples who the people are saying he is. Then he asks them who they say he is. Peter will declare “You are the Messiah.” (Mark 8:29) In some way, what Jesus is doing for the deaf man, opening his ears so that he can speak, he is also doing for his disciples. Next week in the gospel Peter will speak for the first time the truth that Jesus is the Messiah.
1. Do you know people who seem to be able to travel freely into places that you try to avoid?
2. When you attend a large social gathering, who are the people you go out of your way to visit with? Are there also people you try to avoid?
3. How would your life be different if you were deaf? What would you do compensate? How many of those things were not available to a person at the time of Jesus?
4. Do you believe that there are people who are beyond God’s reach to heal, forgive, or bring to fullness of life?
5. Does the way you interact with people express your belief?
6. Why would Jesus go out of his way to travel to Gentile lands? What does Jesus lose by choosing to go to the known regions of the Gentiles? Do you think that Jesus really wrestled with issues before he decided to take this route?
7. Why would Mark want to emphasize Jesus’ route of travel?
8. What part of this story holds the most fascination for you:
- the fact that Jesus is clearly traveling among the gentiles,
- the cure itself,
- the response of Jesus to the crowd,
- or the statement of the crowd at the end? Why?
9. Jesus spoke, "Ephphatha!" (That is, "Be opened!") The command seemed to have results beyond just the man’s ears. What else was opened?
10. How is the text important for you in your relationship to God, to the church, and to the people about you?
Reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel. To be added to the distribution list, send your name and email address to firstname.lastname@example.org
A Spanish translation of the reflection questions is made possible by Fernando Alessandrini. If you wish to receive the Spanish translation please contact Fernando at email@example.com.
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