Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, through the region of the Decap′olis. And they brought to him a And he charged them to tell no one; but the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well; he even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.” (Mark 7:31-37)
It never ceases to amaze me how intimate Scripture can be, nor how quickly I can lose sight of that intimacy. Far too often I come to a particular passage in the (sincere) desire to “get the message” or understand the point so that I can apply it to my life and forget that so many of these stories are about real people, with real struggles, who really had powerful encounters with God. And there is just as much (maybe even more) to be learned in looking at the dynamics of those encounters as there is to be learned from their final “results”.
Nowhere is this clearer than in today’s account of the deaf and dumb man healed by Jesus. Mark is the only gospel writer to include this story, but there are several indications within his account that the event itself had made a strong and lasting impression on his disciples. Notice how profoundly physical this particular healing is: Jesus puts his finger into the man’s ears, then he spits on them and touches them to the man’s tongue. This is no healing from a distance. This is profoundly intimate, even to a point that most of us would find profoundly uncomfortable.
Notice, also, how Mark records Jesus drawing the man away privately. This is not a public healing, but a personal encounter between Jesus, the man, and presumably at least some of Jesus’ disciples. Only one other place in Mark’s gospel is Jesus recorded as doing something similar (the curing of a blind man in 8:22-26) and it is interesting to note that there, too, he heals by spitting and laying hands on the man.
And finally, notice also the seemingly insignificant details of Jesus’ words of healing (rather than translating, Mark leaves Jesus’ words in Aramaic) and his gestures (looking up to heaven, sighing). What we have is not just a parable or story about a healing, but the recreation of a scene that had left a profound impression on its few witnesses not only for its results, but also for its details. This is a real story about a real encounter between a real individual and Jesus, and in this case it is not the Devil, but God himself—the God who knows and cares about individual lives and stories, individual needs and desires—who is to be found in the details.
This becomes particularly clear when we realize that, even in recording and highlighting these particular and incredibly intimate details, Mark has nevertheless not failed to draw the larger connections between this event and God’s overall plan of salvation. The word he uses to describe the man’s speech impediment only appears one other place in Scripture, in Isaiah’s prophesy about the return of the Jews from their exile in Babylon:
“Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; Then will the lame leap like a stage, then the tongue of the dumb will sing” (Isa 35:5-6).
The implication is clear: here is the fulfillment of that promise, and it is even more glorious than could have been hoped because now it is not only the Jews who can look forward to such hope, but the Gentiles as well, for this is Gentile territory.
But it is a far more subtle implication that I want to highlight today, because it is the key to understanding not only how God wants to interact with us, but also how he has called us to interact with others. By recording this story in this manner, Mark has revealed that the fulfillment of God’s promises not only reach farther and broader than we could ever imagine, but they also probe deeper and enter more intimately into our lives than we could hope. God does not just wave a magic wand over humanity to cure our wounds and diseases; he enters into our reality and encounters us there so that through our healing we might come to know Him, his love for us and the abundant life He has come to give us.
And he calls us to be that same presence of love in the lives of those around us. This, perhaps, is the most challenging lesson from this story because it presents a standard of encounter with others that is far messier and more intimate than many of us are comfortable with. Of course we’re not called to go and spit on our fingers and poke them into people’s ears and mouths; but we are called to enter into their places of pain and vulnerability and become sources of healing and life through the love that show them. For where Love is, God is (Leo Tolstoy).
Kathleen Durham is a Vice President of Alighieri Press and serves as an author and speaker.