Dear Sisters and Brothers,
When you have a relationship with Jesus, you have a relationship with a real person. Real relationships take some work and understanding. As we live in these difficult times, we may get angry at God for making a world that can become so threatening. We may also know that every human being can be a cause of frustration. Jesus is God in the flesh, and we cope with his humanity as well as his divinity.
Chapter seven of Mark continues with a story that has made many pastors uncomfortable. About thirty years ago, I heard a couple different preachers say that Jesus is “teasing” a Greek woman, by referring to the Greeks as “dogs.” No matter what you call it, it is not teasing. It is an ugly statement in the middle of what seems like a polite conversation. In those days it was not acceptable for a Jewish man to have conversation with a Gentile woman, but Jesus talks to the woman and eventually gives her what she asks for.
In the Old Testament, God gets angry numerous times, but we don’t think much of strong emotions from Jesus. We must admit that he drove the money changers out of the temple (in Mark 11), and that some of his criticism of the Pharisees shows some anger, but here Jesus vents some anger and frustration at this foreign woman.
Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
“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.”
Does Jesus have reason to be angry? We are told that he wanted to visit a house without anyone knowing it; to get some rest from the constant crowds and their demands. But then, this woman shows up to prove that his hopes for rest are not promising.
Jesus is near the city of Tyre, a port city on the Mediterranean, where the Greeks and Phoenicians had been active in trade for many centuries. So, this is an area that would have more non-Jews (and non-Samaritans) than most of the places Jesus visited. The woman was Greek and probably worshipped one of the many Greek gods and goddesses.
The great thing about this woman is that she does not give up. Even though Jesus seems to be suggesting that the Greeks will have their turn after the Jews of the area are healed, the woman does not accept this delay. In response to his statement about “tossing the children’s bread to the dogs,” she replies with respect and intelligence:
“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
This strong woman impresses Jesus with her faith and clear thinking.
Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”
She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
So this is one of the examples of a person being healed at a distance. It is also an example of someone being healed on the basis of another person’s faith. The faith and determination of a good mother win the day.
We say that Jesus is fully God and fully human. He is God in the flesh, but flesh is weak. Jesus understood what it was to be exhausted. We depict him as being angelically detached from human concerns, but the Gospel of Mark makes it clear that Jesus felt many of the emotions we commonly feel. In the last few chapters, we have seen Jesus napping, eating, needing time alone, and feeling “drained.” Are we okay with Jesus snapping at this woman in a brief flash of anger? Personally, it still makes me uncomfortable, but the church has always been challenged by thoughts of Jesus humanity… much more than his divinity.
Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.
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. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.
Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
These few verses cover a lot of mileage. Jesus goes to another Mediterranean city, but then cuts East back beyond the Sea of Galilee to the area of the Decapolis (the ten cities). It is about eighty miles of walking in a few verses.
Jesus heals a deaf man that has been deaf since he was a little child (since he can speak, but not well). This healing takes physical work on Jesus part, and we are told that he even sighs deeply as he speaks to the man. We are given another word of Jesus’ native language. He says “Ephphatha!” (be opened). This is the second time Mark has quoted Jesus in his original language and both were words said during healings.
The man is healed and gains the ability to speak clearly. Again, Jesus tells people to be quiet about this miracle, but the more he encourages people to stay quiet the more that tell everyone. We are even told that the people present spread the word about this healing.
It seems clear that Jesus is slowed down and overwhelmed by crowds that come from widespread talk of his abilities as a healer. It also limited some of his time that he might have been teaching crowds. Nobody seems to realize that Jesus has very limited time to accomplish the tasks of his earthly ministry. The healings are important, but the lasting value of his teachings should not be eclipsed by them.
Chapter seven of Mark shows Jesus in a very busy time. He is rushing from place to place, healing and teaching. He is challenged and exhausted. People are not following his instruction and he is widely misunderstood. There are even people who are plotting to kill him. Meanwhile, even his disciples seem more confused than they ought to be.
The Gospel of Mark is not a sedate book. Jesus rushes from place to place, trying to get as much done before he runs out of time. In terms of the history of the world, there is a very short interval between the baptism of Christ and his crucifixion. The Bible does not give the dates, but it is estimated to be from one to three years for the entire journey.
Questions to Ponder: If Jesus healed you of a lifelong condition, would you be able to keep quiet about it? Can you sympathize with Jesus feeling exhausted?