Gospel Reflection for Friday, February 12th, 2021 — Mark 7:31-37
As the Willy Nelson song goes, Jesus is "On the Road Again." The Gospel of Mark is one of continual movement and action. Today He traveling from Tyre where we saw Him in dialog with a Gentile woman, who was begging for a miracle -- the scraps from the table, so-to-speak.
Open the Eyes of My Heart Lord. This is my prayer every time I read or hear today's Gospel story of a man who is deaf and unable to speak properly.
Jesus' travels throughout the region put him in the midst of a very diverse population, as we see that he is traveling into an area called the Decapolis. The Decapolis was a group of ten cities on the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire. Saint Eusebius explains that the region included Hippose, Pella, Scythopolis, Philadelphia, Gerasa, Dion, Kanatha, Damascus, Raphana and Gadara (the site of the famous healing baths). Each of the ten cities included numerous smaller settlements and dominated trade routes. This presented Jesus and his disciples with an abundance of people, especially of the middle and lower classes, to which to expose to his teachings. Decapolis is also mentioned in Mark 5.20. This occurrence acts as a preliminary exposure for the people of the region; ‘So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.’ This verse similarly parallels the reaction of the people in Mark 7.37. It is interesting to remember that the places mentioned in Jesus’ journey were inhabited by a large number of Gentiles, especially Decapolis which was a nominally Gentile region.
The state of the disabled man in today's reading is interesting in its description. The inability to speak clearly does not necessary mean that the man is neither dumb nor mute; more so it could be caused by the man’s deafness. The term μογιλαλον is a rarely found word which only again occurs in Isaiah 35.6; ‘Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the mute shall sing; for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.’ This verse in Isaiah and its preceding verses suggest that the wording of Mark was referring to a much earlier tradition from the Old Testament in Isaiah 35. Μογιλαλον could also mean ‘stammerer’ which would attest the man’s inability to articulate due to his deafness.
In the days of Jesus, ailments such as deafness and muteness were often seen as either punishment for sin or possession by demons. Jesus’ ability to cure these ailments presents him as one who can forgive sin and overcome demons. This picture of Jesus would have been a powerful illustration of who Jesus was. This may account further for the secrecy at the end of the story in relation to Mark’s addition of the Messianic secret. The curing of the man highlights the identity of Jesus, so though the actual command for secrecy does not deal with the identity of Jesus as the Messiah, the miracle story as a whole attests to the fact
Did Jesus need to go through that whole ritual of touching this poor man’s ears and tongue and speaking the word of command? Certainly not. More than once Jesus performed miracles without any tangible contact with the beneficiary. What comes across in this encounter is God’s humility. Christ deigns to bring the healing power of God into this man’s life through symbolic gestures and visible signs. He continues using this tactic through the ministry of his Church: the sacram