Jesus continues his journey through Gentile territory. Mark gives us a particularly detailed account of Jesus healing a man who has no hearing and limited power of speech.
This recalls the promise in Isaiah of the signs which will accompany the saving coming of God to Israel. The reaction of the crowd that Jesus “has done all things well” reminds us of God surveying the completed Creation. Mark’s vivid presentation has a couple of interesting features which would not be surprising in a setting familiar with stories of healing by magic: the groaning by Jesus, the placing of his finger in the ears, and the anointing of the person’s tongue with spittle. However, Jesus cures the person by speaking, by word. Jesus is therefore superior to any pagan healers, just as Moses and Aaron are vindicated in their competition with the Egyptian magicians.
We find another Markan motif in this episode: Jesus enjoins silence about what has happened on those who have witnessed it, only for this to have the opposite effect. This is part of the “Messianic Secret”: most likely, it expresses Mark’s concern that people (then and now) should not understand Jesus as being the Son of God simply because he can work miracles. Jesus’ true identity as God’s Son will be revealed at the cross, when there is no further possibility of misunderstanding.
The Gentile audience reacts with enthusiasm to Jesus: this contrasts with Mark’s usual presenting of the disciples as failing to understand who Jesus is and the meaning of his actions
Miracles in the Gospel tradition and text are described as works of power: they are signs of the kingdom of God breaking through into human life and confronting sickness and death. The person in the Gospel extract today is now able to communicate fully with those around him; the restrictions on his everyday relationships have been lifted.
It is a great temptation for preachers and teachers to emphasise Jesus’ ability to perform such actions as revealing Jesus as the Son of God. But there is a very fine line between presenting these as signs of the kingdom and (inadvertently) giving the idea that Jesus could work magic, which might be the reason why neither Matthew nor Luke includes this graphically detailed story in their own Gospel accounts. Mark’s theme about Jesus’ paradoxical insisting on not publicising accounts of healings or other experiences (the “Messianic Secret”) only makes sense in such a setting.
When we read or listen to the Gospels, the evangelists want us to ask ourselves, “What does this mean?” not “Did it actually happen?” That Jesus worked what we call “miracles” is very much part of the Gospel tradition. But miracles are symbolic of what Jesus’ ministry is all about: they are recorded as catechetical aids which show God’s kingdom breaking into situations where human beings are in need. Mark shows Jesus going beyond the confines of his own people and land and confronting suffering in those places as well as preaching the word of God. Perhaps it might remind us that our Church is called to be like the Master, who goes out to others and is not concerned simply with “spiritual” matters, but with confronting human suffering and injustice as well.
- Tyre and Sidon are non-Jewish coastal cities to the north-west of Galilee.
- Decapolis means “Ten Cities”, although there is no fixed list of these towns: it refers to an area on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee and the River Jordan.
- The important point about all these places is that they are largely Gentile.
Look up Tyre, Sidon and the Decapolis on a map of biblical lands: this will give you an idea of where Jesus carried out his ministry.