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What does it mean to speak truth?.. to power?; that’s counter-cultural?; truth that’s transformation on both a personal and universal level? We struggle to know what it means to speak truth these days (and every day). Do you do it with conviction, coercion or confession? Does truth-telling have to be passionate?; negative?; politically correct? Today’s scripture wrestles with the notion of the truth of God’s good news and its effects on us as individuals and on the world as a whole.
Jesus has been in Gentile land, near Tyre – the gentile metropolis nearest the borders of Jewish Galilee. He’s returning “home’ – to Israel. Yet Mark gives us an indication that it’s not a simple trip, nor is it vagabond-like wandering. It’s a circuitous, undoubtedly intentional journey. The geography is foreign to us. In Mark’s words, Jesus does a journey similar to us if we tried to go from Sacramento to San Jose, first via Lake Tahoe and then through Stockton. Curious. What’s going on? Things aren’t as straight forward as they at first sound.
Jesus runs across and heals a gentile man (he just healed a gentile woman in Mark 7:24-30). He is deaf and has great difficulty in speaking. He cannot hear the truth, let alone speak it. Jesus spits, and uses his saliva as some sort of medicinal salve. It’s sounds gross, but was a common medicinal practice in the ancient world. Spittle was seen as a constructive and life giving force (like semen, as some sort of antiseptic). But does Jesus spit 1) on the ground, 2) on his own fingers, or 3) in the man’s mouth? What’s exactly going on here?
The man has come to Jesus, like the syrophencian woman, with faith, trusting that Jesus can heal him. He’s not only made well – his ears are opened and his tongue is loosened. He can suddenly, for the first time, speak plainly about life, the truth he has experienced, and the feelings that he has. Paradoxically Jesus commands him to keep quiet, not to spread the news in a TMZ sort of way. Yet the story is told, gossip is spread, hope is whispered and Jesus is overwhelmed by the crowds he seems to want to avoid. Wait. Doesn’t he want to spread his message to the maximum amount of people possible? What’s going on?
From the first line the story is framed as literal and symbolic. Jesus travels to the Decapolis (region of 10 affiliated Gentile cities east of Galilee) but does it by first passing through and visiting another Gentile area. The First Testament repeatedly says that the Gentiles are deaf to God’s message, unable to recognize the truth of the Torah. [Isa 42:10-20, 43:8-9; Micah 7:16) Jesus heals one deaf mute, giving him whole hearing and the ability to speak truth; yet it’s more than that. Echoing the messianic vision of Isaiah 35 (specifically verse 4-6), Jesus seems to be inaugurating God’s reign in the world – Jewish and Gentile – in which all know the truth of God’s justice, claim his love and recognize their dependence upon him.
The text is asking us – as hearers and readers of the gospel – if wee too are deaf and mute? Do we hear God’s truth? What is it? Are we able to speak plainly of the truth we have experienced by faith? How do you talk about Jesus in your own life, the One who claims to be the truth, the way, the life?
Questions for Going Deeper: