Mark 7:31-37


Mk. 7:31-37

He went away again from the regions of Tyre and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, through the regions of the Decapolis. They brought to him a man who was deaf and who had an impediment in his speech, and they asked him to lay his hands on him. He took him aside from the crowd all by himself. He thrust his fingers into his ears, and spat, and touched his tongue. Then he looked up into heaven, and sighed, and said to him, “Ephphatha!” which means, “Be opened!” And his ears were opened, and the bond which held his tongue was loosed, and he spoke correctly. He enjoined them to tell no one; but the more he enjoined them the more exceedingly they proclaimed the story of what he had done. They were all amazed beyond measure. “He has done all things well,” they said. And he made the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak.

This story begins by describing what is on the face of it an amazing journey. Jesus was going from Tyre to the territory around the Sea of Galilee. He was going from Tyre in the north to Galilee in the south; and he started by going to Sidon. That is to say, he started going due south by going due north! As one scholar has put it, it would be like going from London to Cornwall via Manchester; or like going from Glasgow to Edinburgh via Perth.

Because of that difficulty some have thought that the text is wrong and that Sidon should not enter into it at all. But almost certainly the text is correct as it stands. Another thinks that this journey took no less than eight months, and that, indeed, is far more likely.

It may well be that this long journey is the peace before the storm; a long communion with the disciples before the final tempest breaks. In the very next chapter Peter makes the great discovery that Jesus is the Christ (Mk. 8:27-29), and it may well be that it was in this long, lonely time together that this impression became a certainty in Peter’s heart. Jesus needed this long time with his men before the strain and tension of the approaching end.

When Jesus did arrive back in the regions of Galilee, he came into the district of the Decapolis, and there they brought to him a man who was deaf and who had an impediment in his speech. As Tyndale vividly translates it the man was “deffe and stambed in his speech.” No doubt the two things went together; it was the man’s inability to hear which made his speech so imperfect. There is no miracle which so beautifully shows Jesus’ way of treating people.

(i) He took the man aside from the crowd, all by himself. Here is the most tender considerateness. Deaf folk are always a little embarrassed. In some ways it is more embarrassing to be deaf than it is to be blind. A deaf person knows he cannot hear; and when someone in a crowd shouts at him and tries to make him hear, in his excitement he becomes all the more helpless. Jesus showed the most tender consideration for the feelings of a man for whom life was very difficult.

(ii) Throughout the whole miracle Jesus acted what he was going to do in dumb-show. He put his hands in the man’s ears and touched his tongue with spittle. In those days people believed that spittle had a curative quality. Suetonius, the Roman historian, tells of an incident in the life of Vespasian, the Emperor. “It fortuned that a certain mean commoner stark-blind, another likewise with a feeble and lame leg, came together unto him as he sat upon his tribunal, craving that help and remedy for their infirmities which had been shown unto them by Serapis in their dreams; that he should restore the one to his sight, if he did but spit into his eyes, and strengthen the other’s leg, if he vouchsafed only to touch it with his heel. Now when as he could hardly believe that the thing any way would find success and speed accordingly, and therefore durst not so much as put it to the venture, at the last, through the persuasion of his friends, openly before the assembly he assayed both means, neither missed he of the effect.” (Suetonius, Life of Vespasian 7. Holland’s translation.) Jesus looked up to heaven to show that it was from God that help was to come. Then he spoke the word and the man was healed.

The whole story shows us most vividly that Jesus did not consider the man merely a case; he considered him as an individual the man had a special need and a special problem, and with the most tender considerateness Jesus dealt with him in a way that spared his feelings and in a way that he could understand.

When it was completed the people declared that he had done all things well. That is none other than the verdict of God upon his own creation in the very beginning (Gen.1:31). When Jesus came, bringing healing to men’s bodies and salvation to their souls, he had begun the work of creation all over again. In the beginning everything had been good; man’s sin had spoiled it all; and now Jesus was bringing back the beauty of God to the world which man’s sin had rendered ugly.


Back to: Barclay’s Commentary

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