“He has done everything well” Mark 7:37
Saint Mark’s telling of two miracles of Jesus in today’s Gospel speaks about three sorts of healing, there is physical healing, healing of the body; there is psychological healing, healing of the mind; and there is healing of relationships, reconciliation.
Physical healing, the healing of the man who could neither hear nor speak, seems the most straightforward, but it is important to look at how Jesus goes about that healing. We are told, in Verse 32, “They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him.” The man has not come himself, instead he has been brought by others, perhaps they have brought the man out of the best of motives, perhaps they have also come out of curiosity, come to see what Jesus would do. Is their reason for being there purely altruistic, or is their sincerity tinged with just a little wish to see something sensational happen? Jesus’ desire to keep his identity secret makes him wary of the crowd, Verse 33 says, “He took him aside in private, away from the crowd.” The means Jesus uses for the healing are odd, Jesus might simply have spoken, instead he seems to act in a way that the man would understand,we are told that Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears and spat and touched his tongue. “Then”, say Verses 34-35, “looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.”
What does the story of the man’s healing say? It says that Jesus respects individual dignity. Jesus does not wish to turn the man into a spectacle, nor does he wish to act in a way of which the man has no understanding. It is a story that is a reminder to treat every person with respect, to see everyone as possessing a dignity that comes from being people shaped in the divine image..
Psychological healing, the healing of mind, is a difficult subject in Scripture. We are told in Verses 25-26, “a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.” In a pre-scientific world, people had no understanding of mental illness, even into modern times it has continued to be stigmatised, as something of which to be afraid, of something that cannot be explained in human terms. The method of healing that Jesus uses in this case is very different from that used in the healing of the man with hearing and speech impairment, whereas the dignity of the man required he be given a sense of empowerment, a sense of participation in his own healing, the last thing the little girl needs is to be intimidated by the arrival of a group of strangers, in Verse 29, Jesus says, “the demon has left your daughter.” “So”, says Verse 30, “she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.”
What does the story of the healing of the little girl say? It says that Jesus goes to the place where there is need, he does not go to the child’s house, but he is present there to bring healing. It is a story that is a challenge us to to bring change in places we least expect it.
The healing of relationships, reconciliation, is probably the most difficult healing of all in the 21st Century. With medical science physical and psychological healing can be achieved in ways that were unimaginable in the past, but reconciliation is something altogether more difficult. Saint Mark is blunt about the sectarianism of the time, “Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin”, he writes in Verse 26 of the woman whose daughter needed healing. Jesus is not afraid to speak in the terms of the time in order that the sort of language used might be challenged, “He said to her,” in Verse 27, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Jesus knows what sort of abusive language was used of the Gentiles and the woman recognizes that by speaking openly, such abuse can be disarmed. “Sir,” she says in Verse 28, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” The encounter has been honest and frank, sectarianism has been acknowledged and rejected. Jesus surely smiled as he said to the woman, “For saying that, you may go.” Not only is the daughter healed, but relationships are also healed.
What does the story say about reconciliation? It says that Jesus spoke with honesty. He acknowledged the ugliness of the attitudes of the people of his time. The story is a challenge to be open and frank because where there is no honesty there can be no true reconciliation.
The two stories of healing ask questions of the church and its members about how willing they are to follow the example of Jesus.