Gospel: Mark 7:31-37

Shortcomings and Faith

What kinds of shortcomings do people have? How do those shortcomings challenge people to grow?

We all have 'em. Shortcomings. They can be physical, emotional, moral, behavioral, or mental. Most of us have several shortcomings. Some of these shortcomings are real. Others are imagined (they're only "real" when we compare them to other people). No matter. We will obsess, deny, rationalize them. And we'll spent real money for relief from them. We'll do anything to alleviate them, to be free of them.

Sometimes we call these shortcomings our "demons." In the time of Jesus, the ancients equated many of these shortcomings to demonic possession. Jesus freed a man from a real shortcoming, a demon, but did more than heal him. He allowed the man to hear and speak the truth.

Popular Translation

31 After Jesus left the town of Tyre, he traveled through the town of Sidon to Lake Galilee, right through the area of the Ten Cities. 32 There, the people brought Jesus a man who could not hear and who could barely speak. 33 After Jesus took the man away so the two of them could be alone, he put his fingers into the man's ears. Then, after Jesus spit, he touched the man's tongue. 34 Finally, Jesus looked to heaven, groaned, and said to the man, "Open up!" 35 Now the man could hear, his speech problem was gone, and he could speak clearly. 36 "Don't talk about what just happened," Jesus commanded the people. But the more he commanded, the more they people talked about it with everyone they saw. 37 They were so surprised that they kept saying, "Jesus does everything well! He even heals those who can't hear and those can't speak!"

This simple miracle narrative has the overtones of an exorcism. The man in question not only gained the ability to hear and speak. He was able to speak clearly, that is, speak for God.

Literal Translation

31 Again having gone out of the area of Tyre, HE went through Sidon to the sea of Galilee, up through the area of the Decapolis. 32 They carried to HIM a deaf and speech impaired (man); they begged HIM in order that HE might lay (HIS) hand on him. 33 Having taken him away from the crowd by himself, HE thrust HIS fingers into his ears and, having spit, HE touched his tongue. 34 Having looked up to heaven, HE groaned and said to him, "Ephphatha," which is be throughly opened. 35 His (ability to hear) was opened, the chain of his tongue was loosed, and he was speaking clearly.

7:31 Beginning in Gentile territory, Jesus traveled through Galilee (predominantly Jewish) into Gentile territory (again). Traveling south along the Mediterranean coast, Jesus turned inland across Galilee proper to the southeast corner of the sea of Galilee. The Decapolis (literally "Ten Cities" in Greek) was a "Greek" outpost (hence the name of the area).

7:33b "having spit, HE touched his tongue" There are two interpretations of these two actions. Jesus used some of his own spit on the man's tongue. (Culturally, this makes no sense.) More likely, Jesus spat on the ground as a symbolic warning against demons who would want to interfere with the healing of the man's speech.

7:35 "His (ability to hear) was opened" is literally "His listenings were opened" the ability to hear and understand was different from the physical organ of the ear. This phrase inferred the man could hear and understand.

"the chain of his tongue was loosed" this verse inferred the man's inability to speak was the result of demonic possession.

As the notes above indicate, Jesus treated this healing as a demonic possession. He spat on the ground as a warning against evil spirits. He touched the man on the ears and the tongue to infuse God's power. As a result, the man was able to truly hear and understand. And the chains that held his tongue (demons bound his tongue) were loosened. The man could speak clearly, for no demon could now touch him.

Jesus freed the man from more than a physical ailment. He restored the man's moral character and social contacts. Jews in the time of Jesus assumed physical ailments (like the one the man suffered from) were the result of sin, either personal or ancestral. Such an ailment reflected moral deficiencies. It also placed barriers between the man and a normal social life. (Indeed, some of his family members might have been ashamed of his condition and sought to hide him.) Despite the action of the crowd to deliver the man to Jesus, the man still would have been "different," counted among the outcasts and sinners.

We must not overlook whose voice, whose command, healed the man. The man responded to Jesus' word: "Be opened!" The man heard and felt Jesus. His power healed the man. Now, the man could hear the truth. And he could clearly speak the truth. Mark inferred that the man was freed from his demons and rose to proclaim faith. How much clearer can one speak?

36 HE commanded them that they might (not) speak to anyone (about the healing). But, the more he was commanding them, the more excessively they themselves were announcing (the healing). 37 They were astonished beyond measure, saying, "He has done everything well, even the deaf he makes to hear and the speech impaired to speak."

The clarity of the man's speech (his own witness) caused others to praise God and spread the reputation of Jesus. Why did Jesus try to discourage the crowd from praising him? Historically, such praise would bring a backlash. "The carpenter had no right to be a healing minister," some would think. Controversy would bring scandal and scandal would bring condemnation. Those who rose above their place in life would be knocked down.

There was another reason for Jesus' reaction to such praise. Those who praised him would misunderstand his ministry and his Messiahood. They would expect Jesus to be God's vengeance, the Davidic messiah who would drive the Romans into the sea and restore his ancestor's throne. In the end, even his most enthusiastic followers would leave him when they found Jesus would not fulfill their political ambitions.

Jesus wanted discretion from the crowd because he would, in time, reveal the type of Messiah he was. He would also reveal the type of follower his Messiahood required.

Is our praise of God for his benefit or ours? Do we pray and worship God to fulfill our needs alone? Or do we do it for his glory? Or do we praise God for both reasons? Explain.

Sometimes our shortcomings are spiritual. We are people of faith, but our spiritual focus is upon the self. Many times we struggle between our immature "needs" and a real exercise in the Spirit's gifts. These shortcomings can lead us to discouragement ("church does not fulfill my needs anymore"). Or they can challenge us to grow. Through growth, we begin to listen and understand. Then, we can speak clearly. Our ears are no longer blocked. Our tongue is no longer held bound. Despite our shortcoming, Jesus will touch and call to us. And he will use these shortcomings to lead us to greater faith.

Reflect on your own shortcomings. How do they affect your spiritual life? How do they challenge you to redouble your efforts in prayer and service?