Have you ever noticed that Jesus often does things that we don’t expect him to do? Take the stories we read in Mark 7:24-37, for example. He does two things that we don’t expect him to do.
First, Jesus gave an uncharacteristically rude and abrupt reply to the woman’s request for her daughter to be healed. Jesus is often portrayed as a gentle, kind and caring person, but in this case he gave a harsh response. The woman made a bold move by approaching Jesus in the first place. At that time, women did not boldly approach men. She was also bold by continuing to engage him when he attempted to dismiss her because she was a Gentile.
There was a reason for his reaction. He wanted to encourage the woman to keep asking him to cast the demons out of her daughter. This should remind us that God doesn’t always answer prayer right away, and sometimes he doesn’t answer prayers in the way we want him to answer them. Sometimes he says, “yes’”, sometimes he says, “no,” sometimes he says “not right now,” and sometimes he says, “no, I have something even better in mind for you.”
The Jews hated the Gentiles and referred to them as “dogs.” In Jewish households at that time, people ate with their fingers and then wiped their hands with a piece of bread, which was given to their pet dogs to eat. Since dogs were considered to be unclean, Gentiles and dogs were on the same level in Jewish society. Dogs also ate any crumbs that were dropped from the table. When the woman referred to dogs eating the crumbs from the table, she meant that the Gentiles would accept any scraps from Jesus’s initial ministry to the Jews. Because of the woman’s faith, Jesus healed her daughter without seeing her or touching her.
Jesus was right when he told the woman that he was sent to minister first to the people of Israel, but there would come a time when his ministry of God’s salvation would be extended to the whole world. After all, Jesus was in Gentile territory, and even in Gentile territory his fame preceded him, so he could not move about in anonymity.
The woman with the demon-possessed daughter knew that Jesus’ first earthly ministry was to the Jews. She was willing to accept this, and she was willing to be called a dog, but her love for her daughter was so great that she was willing to endure Jesus’ harsh remarks. She did not give up, and neither should we. When we persist in spite of harsh treatment and ridicule, Jesus will meet us at our point of need and bless us richly. Everyone who accepts Jesus as Lord will never be turned away.
God sometimes tests our faith for various reasons, just like Jesus tested the woman’s faith with his rude reply. The reasons for these tests range from strengthening our faith to teaching us something. When Jesus was abrupt with the woman, he was testing her faith. Jesus and life can be hard teachers at times. They give the test first and then they teach the lesson. Our response to their tests influences our character, faith and future. By the way, the woman passed her test with flying colours!
Sometimes the life of faith doesn’t turn out the way we want it to. When this happens, we must continue to believe not only because we want to, but because we have to. Jesus is the only one we can rely on in our deepest sadness. Jesus is the only one we can hope in when all hope is lost. Jesus is the only one we can seek out, fall at his feet and ask for even just a small amount of help. Jesus can take our belief and call it faith.
Another way Jesus surprised the people was by healing the deaf man who had a speech impediment. He healed the man in a very personal way-by touching him. Such a miracle was expected of the Messiah, but the fact that this miracle would be done for a Gentile was a complete surprise. By healing the deaf man, Jesus’ popularity reached a new high. He told both the man and the crowd not to tell anyone about what happened (because it was not time for his ministry to be extended to the Gentiles), but they disobeyed him.
In Jesus’ time, sickness was thought to be the result of sin. When Jesus touched the deaf man, he touched someone whom many people considered to be a sinner. Jesus came a long way physically, religiously and socially to get to this man, open his ears and loosen his tongue. By healing the deaf man and the woman’s daughter, Jesus reached out to people who were eager to hear him.
Jesus is for everyone, but what really matters is our relationship with God. Part of that relationship includes regular prayer time with God. How we pray does not matter. For example, it is the custom today for people to close their eyes and bow their heads when they pray, but when Jesus healed the deaf man, he looked to heaven when he prayed. There are no standards or postures for prayer. Prayer is about a person’s heart.
Heaven was the source of Jesus’ power. If we want to see God’s presence at work, we must look at the power behind a miracle, and that power is God. All miracles are God’s blessings. If we meet the needs of other people, we can be a part of God’s miracles in their lives.
Jesus took the deaf man aside as an act of common courtesy. He does not want to embarrass anyone. People’s feelings were important to him. He was sensitive to the deaf man, just like he is sensitive to the cues of everyone he deals with. He reads the situation and acts accordingly. We need to follow his example when we deal with hurting people in our world.
When the deaf man was healed, the people saw God at work in Jesus. They confessed that Jesus was the Messiah. Mark uses this to lead us to the point where we will also confess that Jesus is the Son of God and his Gospel is the Good News of salvation for everyone.
There are a lot of similarities between the deaf man and the disciples. The man could not hear or speak properly, and the disciples could not understand what Jesus was telling them. Because they could not understand what Jesus said and did, their proclamation of the Good News was hampered. They needed Jesus’ touch so that they could see, hear and understand.
We also need Jesus’ touch so we can understand. The church often experiences the same failings. For example, many preachers proclaim the Prosperity Gospel by telling people that all they have to do to become rich is believe when they really need to tell the people to take up their cross and follow Jesus. The church also tolerates any divisions within its midst because crossing these dividing lines makes people uncomfortable. Jesus crossed all sorts of racial, religious and other boundaries during his ministry, and he calls on us to cross those same boundaries today. Jesus’ commitment to enter Gentile territory shows his commitment to those who are different, and he calls on us to share that same commitment.
Our worship agenda is too often “what we get out of it.” In other words, we are concerned more with God serving us than we are with us serving God. We need to recover our ability to be astonished, especially our ability to be astonished by the wonderful things Jesus does in our lives today. The miracles we read about in the Bible seem to be so remote to us, but Jesus still works miracles and changes lives. We need to open our eyes, ears and hearts to the wondrous things of God that are happening all around us. Then, we need to bring a friend to Jesus either in person or in our prayers.
The deaf man represents each and every one of us, and the miracle of his healing applies to each and every one of us. Just as Jesus opened the ears of the deaf man to hear physical sound, he opens our ears to hear the gospel message. Just as he opened the eyes of the blind, he opens our spiritual eyes to see by the light of faith. Just as he cast out demons, he casts out anything that would hinder our Christian journey. We are often deaf to the pleas of those around us, especially the pleas of the poor, the hungry, and the oppressed. We have to open our lives to everyone and listen carefully to what they have to tell us. Listening means that we do not plan our answers while they are talking. Listening means hearing them out without the obligation to give advice or provide them with a solution. When we hear God’s Word we must speak it plainly to a world that has turned a deaf ear to Christianity. When we do, we might just be pleasantly surprised by the reaction we will get.
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- Fr. John Boll, “First Impressions, 23 Sunday (B).” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
- ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible software package.
- McKenna, D.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 25: Mark (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982)
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NKJV (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
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- Exegesis for Mark 7:24-37. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org.
- Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (B).” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
- The Rev. Janet Hatt, “A Young Man Named Pablo and the Syrophoenician Woman.” Retrieved from http://dancingwiththeword.com/
- The Rev. Dr. Charlene Han Powell, “Desperate Belief.” Retrieved from http://day1.0rg/6783-desperate_belief.print.