23B – 05 Sep 2021

23B – 05 Sep 2021

The healing touch of Jesus

Message by: Fr Richard M Healey

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One of the (many) cruel outcomes of Christian history is the unwarranted neglect of the Gospel of Mark. It was not until the sixth century that the first known commentary on the Gospel was written. It seems that the fact that it was the first of the gospels to be written was unknown, and so many presumed that it only functioned as a kind of abbreviated version of the Gospel of Matthew. The style lacks the elegance of Luke or the careful arrangement of Matthew, yet it is not without its many fine points. Thankfully biblical scholarship in the mid-twentieth century began to correct this oversight and the gospel has begun to enjoy much greater prominence. Indeed, more studies and commentaries have been written on the Gospel of Mark since then, than the whole of the first 19 centuries combined.

The passage that we just read (Mark 7:31-37) is one of the passages that is unique to the Gospel of Mark (the others are Mark 4:26-29 & Mark 8:22-26). Jesus is returning from a very foreign and pagan area along the coast of modern-day Lebanon. The geography of the route that Mark describes is strange to say the least. Why Jesus travels even further north in order to ultimately travel to the east, away from the coast, is not explained. The Greek is a little obscure and different translations attempt to smooth out the directions to attempt for it to make more sense. What is clear is that Jesus travels from one gentile area to another, so the man that he encounters in this area on the eastern shores of the Sea of Galilee is almost certainly gentile. Yet Jesus still holds him and treats him with deep compassion and care.

Imagine what it would have been like for this man who is both deaf and unable to speak. How isolating and separating this would be! First, Jesus takes him away from the crowd. Jesus wants to be in direct, immediate and intimate personal relationship with each one of us – not the crowd. God wants to be close and personal in his ministry to us. Mark reminds us several times that the touch of Jesus is powerful – even the touch of his garment. Jesus touches the man’s ears with his hands, and then with fingers covered in spittle he reaches into his mouth to loosen the man’s tongue. Jesus cries out to heaven with a loud cry and then one of the original words of Jesus in Aramaic is preserved: Ephphatha (be opened). Every one of us who has been baptised has shared in this moment sacramentally. It is an essential element of our call as disciples to be constantly formed by God’s word so that we can proclaim the wonders that our God continues to do among us, by sharing in his ministry to reach out and share in his healing ministry with those around us (within the limits of physical distancing and lockdowns!).

Sunday 23, Year B. Mark 7:31-37


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