Friday of week 5 of Ordinary Time – Gospel

Commentary on Mark 7:31-37

Jesus is still in Gentile territory. He has now moved east from the Mediterranean coast to the interior on the east side of the Sea of Galilee in the area of the Decapolis (Greek for “Ten Towns”, deka-polis, dekapolis).

A deaf and dumb man is brought to Jesus for healing. He takes the man aside, puts his fingers in the man’s ears, touches his tongue with spittle, looks up to heaven and prays, “Be opened”. Immediately the man’s ears are opened, his tongue loosed and he is able to speak plainly. As often happens in this gospel, the people who witnessed the miracle are told not to say anything about it to anyone “but the more Jesus insisted, the more widely they published it”.

Their admiration was unbounded. “He has done all things well,” they said, “he makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.”

As often happens in the Gospel and especially in Mark we have here much more than a miracle story, the healing of a physical ailment. We are approaching a climactic part of this gospel and this passage leads into it. What Jesus does to this man is something that is meant to happen to every one of his followers, including his immediate disciples.

We all need to have our ears opened so that we can hear and understand in its fullness the message of Jesus. In addition to that, once we have heard and understood, the natural consequence is that we go out and speak openly to the world about what we have heard and understood. Both hearing and speaking are inseparable for the Christian disciple.

And so in the older form of the baptismal rite and it still may be used in the current liturgy, the celebrant may touch the ears of the one being baptised and put saliva on the lips. (Saliva was believed to have healing powers. And in this the ancients were right; it is in fact a kind of antibiotic. It is why animals also lick their wounds.) This rite symbolises the grace of the sacrament by which the newly baptised (I speak of an adult) hears and accepts the Word of God and undertakes the responsibility of proclaiming it in word and action.

And, as in today’s story, when we have truly experienced the power of that message and the love of God in our own lives, we cannot but do what that man did – broadcast it far and wide.

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