29. Mark 7:31-37: Back to the Gentiles (2)
Here we have the second of two healing stories that interpret Jesus’ critique of ethno-centric Jewish nationalism. “In the region of the Decapolis” (v.31), a league of ten Greco-Roman cities, the people bring a deaf man to Jesus begging him to heal the man.
As we move toward the end of the first half of Mark’s gospel, we note that this story contains many elements we have already met in other healing stories. It is as if this is a summary of all the others, a picture of Jesus’ compassionate ministry, which here extends to the Gentiles (Myers, Say to this Mountain, 83).
-the Decapolis was the site of the healing of the Gerasene demoniac (5:19)
-the purity code is reversed as in the case of the bleeding woman (5:25ff.)
-an Aramaic healing word is used as in the healing of Jairus’ daughter (5:41)
-Jesus’ commands for silence are ignored (1:41)
That Mark tells this story against the backdrop of Old Testament hope shows that he sees Jesus’ controversial dismissal of Jewish boundary taboos is ultimately in line with God’s intentions for his people and world.
First, a rare word for the man’s condition (7:32) is found in the Greek translation of the Old Testament in Isaiah 35:5–6, an anticipation of the New Exodus, when God would visit such things as miraculous healing upon the people.
Second, the response of the crowd (7:37) may also allude to this passage. Jesus, then, is the fulfillment of these promises (Hurtado, Mark, 177-178).
But there may be more even than this going on here. Idols, or divine images, in Mesopotamia were deaf, mute, and lifeless until prescribed rituals were performed which brought it to life. Its limbs, sensory organs, tongue and mouth were enlivened and it was clothed in royal garb and placed in the temple. Could it be that Mark or at least Mark as read in the context of the whole canon of scripture, is suggesting the Jesus’ healing of this deaf-mute person is a recreation of him as created in the image of God and setting him free to live and serve as that divine image-bearer?
That may well be the deepest significance of Jesus’ healings and of God’s New Exodus and the work of God’s Subversive Counter-Revolutionary Movement. To share in the SCRM or NEW Exodus movement today means bringing liberation and freedom to all who are in any way hindered or denied to live and serve God as his image-bearers.
This may be the reason for the elaborate procedure Jesus employs here rather than magic as is sometimes suggested. The touching on tongue and ears and anointing them with saliva likely alludes, in my judgment, to the idol-animating procedures of the ancient temples. And that would be a most appropriate and compelling summary picture of Jesus’ healing and saving work!