Sunday’s Gospel passage begins by describing what is on the face of it an amazing journey. Jesus was going from Tyre to the territory around the Sea of Galilee. He was going from Tyre in the north to Galilee in the south; and he started by going to Sidon. That is to say, he started going due south by going due north! It may well be that this long journey is the calm before the storm; an extended communion with the disciples before the final tempest breaks.
When Jesus does arrive in the region of Galilee, he comes into the district of the Decapolis – Gentile territory – and there the people bring to him a man who is deaf and has an impediment in his speech.
The story is a prime example of the vivid quality of Mark’s narrative style. The ailment of the man is described in detail, as are Jesus’ initial contacts with him: He takes him aside, puts his fingers in his ears, spits, and touches his tongue. Prior to the healing command, Jesus “groans.” Then he utters a “foreign” word (ephphatha) and the healing occurs. Such gestures were familiar to the Gentile environment thus Jesus appears similar to pagan healers but superior to them.
The reaction to the miracle is strongly dramatized. The more Jesus commands silence about it, the more the people speak out (proclaim), and those who hear of it are “exceedingly astonished”. The narrative conveys the tension surrounding the “Messianic Secret” in Mark’s Gospel.
The people declared that Jesus had done all things well. That is none other than the verdict of God upon his own creation in the very beginning (Genesis). When Jesus brings healing to bodies and salvation to souls, he has begun the work of creation all over again. In the beginning everything had been good and now Jesus is bringing back the beauty of God to the world which man’s sin had rendered ugly.
Jesus continues his mission of announcing and enacting the Good News he began in the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel. With today’s proclamation from chapter 7, we see that his message and the power that he manifests will be heard and experienced by others than those originally called to be his disciples and will even extend beyond the confines of Jewish territory.
As disciples of Jesus, we too are to “be opened”: our ears open to hear the Good News and our tongues loosened to proclaim it – far and wide.
Liturgy of the Word | 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Director of Adult Formation