“He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue.” — Mark 7:33
We get two distinct stories in the gospel reading this week. In the first part of the reading we hear about Jesus and his beach vacation. Take a moment and go run a quick search for images of Tyre, Lebanon. You will be find images of modern structures next to ancient ruins. Some images of war and violence, unfortunately like much of that part of the world. And you will find images of beaches and the port. Jesus has been traveling and encountering excited crowds and frustrating pharisees. He heads out of town, and even out of the traditional boundaries of the kingdom of Israel. Jesus is on an international beach vacation!
Here he is trying to rest and dodge the crowds (paparazzi), and still can’t catch a break. A woman with a possessed child comes to him and bows at his feet. This has to frustrate Jesus. He’s supposed to be a on a break, and not only does this gentile woman come and find him, but she treats him with more respect than any of his own people! Jesus gets a little testy with her at first, saying that he won’t help her. It’s hard to understand what exactly is going on, but there are a couple of possibilities. Jesus could just be frustrated at the interruption. He might be showing his concern with honoring the covenant God has made with the people Israel. Jesus could be upset that this outsider shows more sense than his own people (throughout Mark the demons and the non-Jews are the first to acknowledge the importance, power, and status of Jesus). Jesus could be upset that the woman didn’t bring her child to meet him (remember that Jesus loves to hang out with kids). Jesus could be pointing to the deplorable relationship these Syro-phonecian people had with his people (these folks were the conduit through which the oppressive Roman taxes passed back to the Empire). Whatever the case, Jesus doesn’t seem pleased to see her. She responds by telling him that even the least of God’s grace is enough for her. Jesus respects this so much that he heals her daughter without even seeing her (it is a rare thing to see Jesus heal without being present with someone).
Speaking of Jesus being present with someone, the next story in the reading is pretty much the opposite. Jesus gets personal, really personal. He gets back from his beach vacation and a deaf and mute man is brought to him. Jesus takes him off to the side and sticks his fingers in his ears and touches his tongue. Talk about getting up close and personal. Jesus is all over the guy brought for healing. This touchy, feely Jesus makes us almost as uncomfortable as the testy Jesus in the other story. I want healing Jesus to be nice, neat, and quick. Definitely sanitary like a hospital, not spitting. But here we are reminded that Jesus needs to be intimately involved in our lives. Are you ready to get involved with this kind of Jesus? Ready to let him influence your life on deep and fundamental levels?