Mark 7.24-end: Two Healings

The Gospel passage for this coming Sunday tells the story of two people healed by Jesus: the demon-afflicted daughter of a woman from Tyre and a deaf mute person from the region of the Decapolis.

Putting the two accounts side by side tells us quite a lot about Jesus’ healing ministry and, by extension, about how healing ministry might look today.

The first thing I notice is that in both cases Jesus is outside or on the boundary of the chosen people. Tyre is pagan country and the New Testament strongly suggests that the Decapolis had a mainly Gentile population. Healing often works most easily on the frontline, where the gospel is breaking new ground. Among the people of God it can be much more difficult: in Nazareth, Jesus’ home town, he could do “no mighty work” (Mark 6.5). Christians often get disillusioned about the possibilities of healing ministry because they see such meagre results within the church community. Sometimes the answer is to get out and about and see what might happen with unbelievers.

Then I notice how different the two healings are. The demonised daughter is healed at a distance – with no more than a word spoken by Jesus. With the deaf mute Jesus goes through an elaborate process of putting his fingers in the man’s ears, then spitting and touching his tongue and finally speaking a word:  “Be opened!” The two accounts could hardly be more different.

Jesus had no formula for healing, no method; he discerned what was required in the moment and with regard to each individual, their situation and their needs. We tend to like a formula, to feel that we know what we’re doing and have some control of the outcome. That may be a mistake. Better to learn to hear what the Spirit is saying to us. If that sounds daunting, think of it as an adventure.

The two accounts both suggest we shouldn’t be surprised or put off if we meet some obstacles in healing ministry. The Syrophoenician woman has to argue Jesus into healing her daughter. At first he seems to be saying No. She could have backed off at this point and given up. But she perseveres and is rewarded. Something similar could be said about Jesus’ way of handling the deaf mute man. Perhaps he adopted this unusually complex approach because he knew that, in this situation, with this person, more than a word would be required. Maybe there was an issue with the man’s openness to being healed: he had, after all, been brought by other people. Faith sometimes means that we have to work through the difficulties and overcome the obstacles.

I’ve already mentioned that both these healings take place on the borders of Israel. This fits the context in Mark 7 perfectly. Jesus has just “declared all foods clean” (Mark 7.19). Now Mark shows the implications of that radical step being worked out in practice. Significantly, the demonised daughter in Tyre has an “unclean” spirit. Just as from this point on no food is unclean, so likewise no person is excluded by their uncleanness from the grace of God. If the Old Testament dietary laws are being set aside, that is because God is bringing his loving purpose to bear on the whole world, not just Israel.

Finally, I have been assuming that Jesus wants us to imitate him. Isn’t that what following him means? If we were willing to take some risks in healing ministry, might that not liven up our church life and put new vigour into our relationship with those outside?

When people are “overwhelmed with amazement” (Mark 7.37) by what they see God doing it’s not hard for them to turn to Christ in repentance and faith.

When Mark urges his readers to follow Jesus, he envisages, not a boring life of conventional religion, but things happening that would make people astonished.

Tom Wright, Mark for Everyone, p99

Published by markphilps

Came to faith at university while studying Russian. Brief career with the BBC. Married to Caroline. Ordained in the Church of England. Thirty-five years in parish ministry. Now retired and doing some writing.

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