15 PENTECOST, PROPER XVIII - B - 15 MARK 7. 24-37
In last week’s gospel Jesus stood toe to toe with the Pharisees and confronted them about their traditions of what constituted one “clean or unclean.” He left them with a teaching on what truly defiles an individual, subordinating their so-called traditions of man to those of the commandments of God.
Having done so, Jesus leaves Galilee and travels NW, entering the region of Tyre and Sidon on the Mediterranean coast. Sidon was the most Northern city visited by Christ and is about 50 miles from Nazareth. Tyre is some 20 miles South of Sidon and at the time of Christ, its population was equal to that of Jerusalem.
Jesus went to the Gentile cities not to preach or teach about the Kingdom, but to withdraw from the presence of the faithless Pharisees. Interestingly enough, according to Mark, it appears he is alone. The disciples are not mentioned.
He enters a house wishing to remain incognito, but cannot escape notice. Obviously, someone there recognized him and the word quickly spread that he was in their presence. It doesn’t take long for a Greek woman to seek him out on behalf of her daughter who it is reported is possessed by a demon.
Mark says she “begs” Jesus to cast the demon out. Notice the girl is not present, only the mother bows before him interceding on the child’s behalf. At first, Jesus appears to simply ignore her, but she persists. And when Jesus does respond to her it is not with a “yes” but more of a statement of putting her in her place. She was a Gentile, not a Jew.
Today some might say that he was not “politically correct” in doing so. But, Christ’s mission was not to spread the gospel to the Gentile world but to the Jewish people. He had not gone North to preach, teach, or heal, but to lie low for a while.
Christ’s use of the term “first” in his ultimate response to the Greek woman, however, implies that in due time the Gentiles would be ushered into the kingdom. But not now, that would come later after the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost when the world would come to know that not only is Christ the King of the Jews, but the Savior of the world.
She, therefore accepts her place beneath the Jews, yet still desires a share in God’s grace, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Her comment strikes at the heart of Christ’s Divine compassion. He is moved to grant her request.
Having just withdrawn from the faithless Pharisees, He is now confronted with a Gentile woman’s faith, and wherever he finds “faith” he responds. Speaking to her in Greek, Christ says “…go, the demon has left your daughter. So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.”
This story is a striking instance of a healing from a distance and on the basis of intercessory faith. It is the only miracle in Mark where Jesus heals one whom he has not seen.
Again Jesus is on the move. This time taking a circuitous route away from Galilee and into the league of ten cities to the SW called the Decapolis, an area that contains the present day Damascus. This too is a region made up mostly of non-Jews. Once again he is recognized and sought out because of his reputation as a healer.
Friends of a man who is deaf and has an impaired speech bring him to Jesus, and like the Greek woman “beg” Jesus to do something; to lay his hands on him. Jesus takes him aside and away from the crowd. He touches the man’s ears and his tongue. Christ’ command that the man’s ears be opened is in his native tongue of Aramaic. The man is now able to hear and to speak plainly much to the astonishment of those who brought him to Jesus.
The significance of this healing lies in the fact that is signals a fulfilling of a portion of Isaiah’s Messianic prophesy. The blind will see, the lame walk, and the deaf hear. Those present seem to realize this and, according to Mark, are “astounded beyond measure.”
After having withdrawn from the presence of the “faithless” Pharisees, Christ is undoubtedly touched by the faith displayed by these Gentiles. They have heard of his power to heal and make whole and they do not hesitate to seek him out for that very purpose, interceding on behalf of their friend, for they believe in Jesus.
These miracles grab the people’s attention. They make Jesus out to be a great healer of body as well as soul, but this is not his primary mission. His mission was to inaugurate the Kingdom of God without being distracted. He meant to accomplish his purpose through preaching and teaching. The healing was secondary. Jesus “ordered” them, according to Mark, to keep it to themselves, but the more he “ordered” them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.
Today’s lectionary presents us with a pair of Jesus’ healings of non-Jews. One occurs long distance; the other up close and personal. Both healings take place because of intercessory faith. The Gentile woman displays a genuine faith in Jesus to heal the body and soul of her absent daughter, as did those who brought the deaf man with a speech impediment to Jesus. Neither were disappointed. God never disappoints.
Healings take place in many different ways. To stand at the bedside of a loved one or dear friend who has just been diagnosed with cancer and pray that they may be healed and believe that they can be, takes faith. To be asked to pray for someone in physical or spiritual need and to remain persistent in that prayer, day in and day out, year after year, even when we are unable to see any outward change, takes real faith.
Sometimes God answers our prayers by granting the healing we seek - restored health and or spiritual wholeness. At other times the healing comes in ways we do not expect. Death, in itself, can be the answer to our prayers even when it is the last thing we wanted. Either way, we are never disappointed. God does not disappoint. He responds to faith wherever He finds it and His response reflects His Divine compassion.
There is no doubt that Intercessory faith can bring healing. Today’s gospel attests to that. While intercessory prayer, that is, praying for the needs of others before self, is one way in which we can follow the example of Jesus, who always put the needs of others before His own.
Faith alone will not heal us. Faith, however, opens the channels of grace that would otherwise be closed.
If today’s pairing teaches us anything, it is that “faithlessness,” like that of the Pharisees, turns Christ away. Whereas “faith,” as that of the Gentile woman and those who brought the deaf mute to Jesus, results in God’s grace being showered upon us, often in ways we do not expect, but always in ways that “astound us beyond measure.” AMEN+