Meditation of the week

Astonishment beyond measure

Mark 7,31-37.                                                                                       

Despite the confusing geography of this section, the important thing to note is that Jesus is working as a missionary in gentile territory – in the Decapolis – the 10 semi-independent cities, mainly east of the Jordan river. The local people bring a deaf mute to him and ask him to lay his hands upon him – a metaphor for healing him. The man is deaf and has an impediment in his speech,  a stammerer, -S a word found only here in the New Testament and only once in the Septuagint, (The Greek Old Testament), in Isaiah 35, 6, (today’s first reading).  Isaiah 35 speaks about the coming salvation, of the messianic age, when the deaf will hear and the dumb will speak. For Mark these messianic promises are being fulfilled in Jesus.

He takes the man aside privately, indicating the desire to escape publicity and attention, and also to respect the man’s privacy. Actions common to Greek and Jewish healings are mentioned here – putting a hand into the man’s ears and touching the tongue with spittle. Jesus looks up to heaven, to his Father, in an act of prayer, indicating of the intimacy between them. The sigh shows deep emotion, sympathy and compassion (1,41) for the sufferer.

The verb Ephphata, (be opened), and the use of saliva, became part of the Baptism rite from the earliest days of Christianity.  His ears were opened and the bond on his tongue was loosened and he spoke correctly.

The injunction to keep the miracle quiet, to save Jesus from being made into a spectacle, produced the opposite effect – they published it all the more.  One can understand why. Being astonished beyond measure – the strongest statement of surprise in all of Mark’s gospel- hints that this was more than a mere miracle. It was the fulfilment of the Isaiah’s prophecy (35,5-6), implying that the messianic times have come. Doing all things well echoes the Genesis first creation story refrain –“ God saw all that he had made and it was good”-  and implies  that something  new is happening here in Jesus. A new creation has come in Jesus.

Given the gentile setting, the influence of Isaiah 35, 5-6 on the narrative, and the astonishment beyond measure, it is clear that for Mark something new and wonderful is happening in Jesus. A new deed is being done, a new age is dawning, a new hope is emerging.  New ground is being broken.

For Mark, deafness is a metaphor for inability to hear the gospel and believe in it.  Dumbness is the inability to proclaim it. Such metaphors pertain to our times, too.              What are we as Christian believers doing to make the good news of the gospel heard in the media and in public debate?  How often do you read the gospels for your own spiritual nourishment? We who believe the good news of the gospel should be searching for new and imaginative ways to attract those who are deaf to it to hear it, and those who are sad of heart to experience its joy. Healing is an essential ingredient of the gospel for Jesus and for believers. Please pray that the National Eucharistic Congress in Liverpool this week-end will be successful in its aims to make the Eucharist better understood and loved.

Father Geoff O’Grady