Sunday

9 September 2012

Mark 7:24-37

"Then 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." (vv. 34-35)


Background

This passage from Mark's Gospel records what we would call an exorcism and a healing, although both involve healing, one of an affliction explicitly caused by demonic possession. Both stories involve people who are outsiders, and whose lives are transformed by an encounter with Jesus. But while it is possible to read these stories as accounts of literal healings, they serve to highlight Jesus' inclusive mission to bring about the kingdom of God.

The Syrophoenician woman was a Gentile (non-Jew), a Greek from the region of Tyre, northwest of Galilee. Jesus' fame had already spread to that region, as we see in the story of the crowds coming to him earlier in the Gospel (Mark 3:8) for healing and exorcism. This time, there is no crowd, only a foreign woman who dares unconventionally to approach a strange man, thus bringing shame upon herself and her family. But the story shows that Jesus himself learns that social conventions should not stand in the way of doing good for those in need, and are an indication that the kingdom of God goes beyond the borders of Israel into the rest of the world.

The second story, the healing of the deaf man with the speech impediment, emphasises his exclusion from his community. Like the foreign woman, he is an outsider, in his case because of his disability. Healing him by giving him the ability to hear and understand, as well as to communicate normally, enables the man to be reinstated in to his proper place in society. In both cases, Jesus' actions transform the lives of those who encounter him.

This was an age when disability and illness could prevent a person from fully engaging in the religious life of the community. But as the healing of the deaf man shows, the problems created by disability are no longer barriers to inclusion in the kingdom. God's transforming power and love are for all, and no one is excluded.


To Ponder

  • We commonly speak of people as outsiders, people who for whatever reason are socially excluded. If Jesus does not consider anyone 'beyond the pale', what needs to change in order for outsiders in our society to be socially included?
  • How do social conventions in your church result in the exclusion of certain people from participation?
  • How has the Paralympics changed your perception of people with disabilities? What effect will it have on the way you treat others?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Susan Graham

As the training officer and development enabler in the Bristol District, Susan's work has focused recently on developing new ways to train local preachers, which enables her to combine her love of teaching and her passion for excellence in theological education. She is a New Testament scholar who specialises in historical Jesus study, and she has just published her first (and probably only!) book on the subject.