Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity Mark 7:24-end Isaiah 35:4-7a
What do you do when you’ve got some news, and you’re looking for the quickest way to spread it around? Of course, you tell it to the worst gossip you know, saying that it’s a secret… Here we are, with two healing miracles; one, of a daughter who had an unclean spirit, and two, of a deaf man who couldn’t speak. Jesus makes them whole, both of them, but not after some banter in the first encounter, when the mother of the girl pleads with him to heal her child. It’s an interesting setting: Jesus had gone to a place where he wanted to be left alone for a while. But word spread anyway, and he couldn’t escape notice. A woman from the Syrophoenician area – in other words, a Greek, a Gentile, a non-Jew – had traced him and begged him to cast out the demon that her daughter had been inflicted with. Jesus’ response is a bit curious: he says that it isn’t fair to give the children’s food to the dogs… Not only is this a strange response from the fact that he was never asked in vain when people were desperate, but it’s also a bit insulting. ‘Dog’ was a name that the Jews used for non-Jews, and it’s obvious that the children are the Israelites. Would Jesus be testing her, maybe? The woman’s answer is a good and clever one: ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Well said. And Jesus affirms it, and says that her daughter is indeed healed – which is the case when the woman returns home.
The second healing miracle is done by Jesus putting his fingers into the deaf man’s ears and touching his tongue. It’s the touch as well as the speech that opens the man’s ears and unties his tongue, so that he can speak. Jesus then orders the people to tell no one; but, Mark writes, the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded.
Why, we may wonder, did Jesus tell them not to mention it to anybody that he had just healed a deaf-mute? The only obvious answer is the one that touches on politics. It was dangerous to be a prophet; the last one hadn’t ended up so well…! And Jesus didn’t want to attract the wrong kind of attention from the authorities, especially when his work was not yet finished. Of course, though, the Kingdom of God was at hand and needed to be proclaimed, and the healing miracles were signs of the inauguration of the new era of God’s grace and his work of redemption. So Jesus continued on his journey of renewal, touching first of all the Jewish nation but also opening it up to the other peoples that lived around it, in his bid to save the world as God had intended. It is the renewal of ‘the wilderness and the dry land’, mentioned in Isaiah 35, that shall be glad. This refers to the people of Israel and the prophecy of their return from exile. It says, ‘Say to those who are of a fearful heart, be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. […] He will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water.’
God’s work cannot be stopped; no demons, no illnesses, no political powers, ‘nothing in all creation, can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:38-39). Healing miracles are signs of God’s love. They point to the ultimate healing of the nations when Jesus is revealed to the world and people will respond with songs of praise. Once that secret is out, no one can ever stop it. Amen.