Jesus is still traveling in the area most Jews considered pagan. It was in that area of the 10 cities [Decapolis] some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk. “…They begged Jesus to place his hand on him. 33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.”
Imagine how confusing this whole situation must have been to this man. He certainly hasn’t “heard” about Jesus. His life must have been like our watching TV with the sound off; the visual chaos of a lot of unexplained activity. That makes it easier for me to imagine his situation. Bless those people that brought him to Jesus.
Bless Jesus for his kindness and sensitivity to remove this man from that visual chaos he must have been experiencing and to protect him from the audible chaos of the crowd at the moment his ears were opened. Away from the distraction of the crowd Jesus could use his hands to show the man what he would do in a silent mime. Jesus’s voice would be the first one heard. It’s a marvelous story of physical healing with just that one word spoken,..“Ephphatha!”
It was interesting to discover that one word, “Ephphatha!” was in Aramaic but the word that explained it was the Greek version “dianoigō,” It seems this healing was too big for just one language. It took both languages to convey the purpose Jesus had in mind as he stood face to face to heal this man…”to open so as to connect.”
Jesus had an even greater purpose for this man’s life…and ours….to understand when he speaks in our lives it’s ”to open so as to connect.”
Mark 7 – There was a mother whose little girl was possessed by an impure spirit. She was a gentile. The story reminded me Jesus was in gentile territory. Ordinarily a Jew would walk miles out of their way to avoid being in this place Jesus had chosen to go.
Then I found this piece of information was brand new to me. “The earthly Israel had failed to gather in the people of Phoenicia; now the true Israel had come upon them. It was not a strange land into which Jesus came; it was a land which long ago God had given him for his own. He was not so much coming amongst strangers as entering into his inheritance.”
Jesus had clearly taught the right food had nothing to do with whether a person was clean or unclean. Now the true Israel tells a different story of what makes a person clean or unclean. It’s not “right” birth or right location that makes a person clean or unclean. That’s a good thing but why is his response to the gentile woman is so harsh?
27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
Jesus was confronting this gentile woman to consider the inferior circumstance she’d lived under her whole life. Slavery then wasn’t so unlike the slavery we’re more familiar with. If you tell people for centuries they’re inferior it takes something more than history for them to believe they have the right to deserve more and ask for it.
28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
What Jesus saw in this woman’s response was courage defined by her faith in him. That was the only thing she had to offer. It wasn’t faith determined by rules or race. She had faith that defied all the odds of her circumstance…and that mattered to Jesus.
29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”
30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Mark 7:5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders
instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”
…14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”
…the missing verse 16 in the NIV is footnoted to be v4:23 “If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.”
Before I’d even read this chapter I was struck by seeing the amount of “red” on the page. Jesus had a lot to say about their traditional observations but tradition wasn’t the problem. God had given man 10 very important commands to be traditionally observed. The problem had become letting outward religious actions take the place of an inward relationship to God.
That’s what makes Jesus’s use of food as an example so perfect. God designed us as an efficient system with both emotional and physical needs. Faith is still a dietary matter. It’s making the choice to let God himself be responsible for our nourishment and then tradition can become food that changes our heart not just a physical ritual temporarily taken in and then eliminated. “If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.”
Read Mark 6:47-52. My focus is v50b “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid,”
Those simple red-letter sentences are the summation of real good news for friends of Jesus that are worn out from fighting the storm. The story ends in Mark 6 with those friends that knew Jesus best being amazed and terrified when he showed up in such an unusual way. They had invested their life completely in following Jesus and even with all their firsthand evidence they didn’t quite understand what to expect from him. Verse 52 says “their hearts were hardened.” How could that possibly be?
I don’t know about you but the thrust of much of what I watch or read about the world today is at best sad and at worst scary. It’s a harsh reality to face the fact that just like those other friends of his, I have to blink twice to recognize that Jesus is more than a ghost in today’s broken world. My heart has been hardened by struggling to understand the evening news instead of that good news. I can’t figure out what to expect from current events but I think there’s a solution. I’m just trying to blink twice so I can see a new reality that Jesus is in the boat with us and take him at his word in this storm. “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid,”
31b “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
37b “You give them something to eat.”
38 “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”
Mark sandwiches the grim story of the beheading of John the Baptist right in the middle of this chapter. The same story in Matthew 14 indicates the events of this chapter are recorded in chronological order and the timeline appears to be the same year as the feeding of the five thousand. I wonder why there are no red letter quotes from Jesus? That’s a mystery.
It makes sense that Jesus would recognize their need for rest and maybe even a time to grieve for John. That may have been his goal but neither of those things happened because of the pressing needs of the crowd. I love these disciples because they are just ordinary people. Their heart’s goal was to secure the future of the people around them with the truth that Jesus has taught them but…wait for it…the needs were so big and they had so little. Jesus is teaching THEM about the priority of need over goals.
It sounds like life today. In our goal-oriented society it still sounds impossible that the smallest effort might be enough to make a big difference. Goals are important but needs are the immediate pathway that gets you one step nearer to them. Jesus is trying to teach US about the priority of need over goals today and his solution is still the same…”Go and see.”
Mark 6:7b Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. 7 Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits. 8 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
Need is a two sided coin. In fact if you look at Jesus’s own beatitudes [Matthew 5] you find need is the coin of the realm for blessing. As I struggled to organize my thoughts for today’s post I was surprised to discover just how important need was for both the village people and the disciples in this story.
Jesus sent his disciples to enter a town equipped with only the barest of essentials to preach repentance to the needy. The disciples had been given the power they needed. Authority was only one side of the coin. The other side of the coin was humiliy. It’s much harder to tell someone they’re in need from a position of power. Jesus gave his disciples the authority of humility to enter a village and “meet a need with a need” so both those who spoke and those who heard could be blessed.
Mark 6:1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.
The hometown boy has returned with his disciples, acting like a Rabbi and ready to speak and teach in the synagogue. “Many who heard him were amazed.” Doesn’t that sound like a positive thing? It wasn’t. They were victims of familiarity. They’d watched Jesus grow up. They knew his history and they were certain of what they knew about him. They were so certain about what they imagined Jesus to be that he was unable to show them the reality of who he was.
That reminded me of a not-quite-fictional novel, The Imaginary Jesus, written by Matt Mikalatos. It’s a similar story to this one Mark writes about. Both are meant to challenge us to consider our own preconceived notions of who Jesus is, how much we know about him, how he’s supposed to act and whether we put our faith in the real Jesus or what we imagine him to be. Like those hometown people we can be so familiar with Jesus that we put our faith in what we already know about him and he is no longer able to build our faith on the reality of who he wants to be in our lives, a friend and our Savior
Mark 5:21 – 43 This may not be as familiar story as the others in Mark 5 but it’s a dramatic finale to a desperate story of need. Jesus had crossed to the other side of the lake and from another large crowd one of the synagogue leaders came forward and fell at Jesus’s feet. He pleaded earnestly “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him but some from the house of Jairus said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?” Overhearing what they said, Jesus responded: •V36b. “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
Only Peter, James and John followed him to the home. Jesus’s response to the people crying and wailing was
V39b. “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.”
They laughed at him. He took only the child’s father and mother and the disciples in where the child was. Jesus took her hand and said to her,
•V41b. “Talitha koum!”…“Little girl, I say to you, get up!”
The 12-year old girl astonished them and stood up and began to walk around. Jesus gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
These stories of the people Mark writes about seem to have a common thread…they all have a great need. They don’t approach Jesus with any claims of faith at all. All they have is their need and a little bit of courage to act. Maybe “need” is the reality of faith.
I remember hearing faith was “OK if that was something you need” and being unable to respond. It felt as if need was a weakness and faith like some kind of treatment that could cure you of that. I was embarrassed by that idea. It turns out that statement was exactly true. It’s the courage of need that drives you to the great physician. You don’t get treatment you need unless you make the appointment and tell the doctor your symptoms.
That’s my growing edge; to let the courage of need become what Jesus builds my faith on.
Mark 5:24 – 32. You surely know this story of one needy woman in a large crowd following Jesus. With one timid touch her life is changed forever after years of suffering being unclean because of bleeding that no amount of doctoring or money could cure. She was left unable to participate in any of the life affirming rituals of Jewish law. And Jesus says…
30b “Who touched my clothes?”
34b “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
There was a life and death principle to the Jewish purity laws. This woman wasn’t unclean because of anything she’d done. She was impure because her years of continual bleeding were viewed by law as the loss of potential life and kept her perpetually separated from the ritual practices that could connect her to God.
Her need was so great that she was willing to take one timid step to reach out and secretly touch Jesus’s clothes. She knew Jesus would be defiled by her touch and that act could be punishable by death. A timid step and a secret touch was enough for her new beginning!…but when Jesus stopped and turned around to ask who’d touched him she was terrified. Now what had been one secret touch became a far more public risk she had to take…confess. She “came and fell at his feet “and trembling with fear, told him the whole truth.” He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
We don’t subscribe to ritual purity anymore but this woman’s story is the story of faith today as well. Faith still begins by taking one timid step in belief Jesus has the power to respond to our need. It’s in confessing the whole truth of our need for that relationship with Jesus that we are freed to enjoy the potential of life God intends for us, without depending on ritual.