Mark 7: 24-37
In today’s text we have two wonderful stories from Jesus’ healing ministry. First, while in the area of Tyre and Sidon (coastal cities in southern Lebanon) Jesus is sought out by a Greek woman who is Syrian Phoenicia by birth. The woman seeks healing for her demon possessed daughter. Second, while in the area of the Decapolis (ten Greek cities on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee) some people bring to Jesus a man who is deaf and therefore unable to speak plainly. They ask Jesus to lay his hands on him and heal him. In both stories the people are restored and healed.
Both stories are very short, but masterfully told and either of them would be worthy of much study and discussion. Jesus’ conversation with the Syrian Phoenician and the method of healing the deaf man are both fascinating and we could write volumes on each. Be that as it may, they are also pretty straightforward stories of healing which demonstrate the power of Jesus to cast out demons from a distance and to heal. What I would like for us to look at today is what these two seemingly unrelated stories of healing have in common.
The encounter with the Syrian Phoenician woman takes place in the area of Tyre and Sidon, which is north of Galilee and outside Jewish territory. These cities are predominately Greek as is the woman who sought him out. Jesus is crossing many boundaries in this encounter, as he makes clear in his conversation with the woman. Jews considered Gentiles to be like dogs, because they would eat almost anything, as contrasted with Jewish dietary laws. That is why Jesus said, “…it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” Jesus indicated to her that there is a boundary between them, one that as it turns out he was willing to cross.
The encounter with the deaf mean takes place in the area of the Decapolis. These were colonies established by the Greeks when they ruled Palestine, following the conquest of Alexander the Great. These cities were also Greek and most “true blue Jews” did not go into this area. Here again, Jesus is crossing boundaries and giving away the “bread of the children” in order to feed the dogs.
As when Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), the question of who is my neighbor is being expanded by Jesus. In Jesus, the Kingdom of God breaks down barriers and crosses boundaries. It includes people like tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritans, and sinners of all walks of life. Jesus breaks down barriers and walls that many would have liked to have kept in place. But then Jesus is more than just the long awaited Jewish Messiah. He is the Savior of the World. The ultimate aim of the gospel message is that all people in the world should become children of God. When this happens, no one will have to worry about taking the bread of the children and giving it to the dogs.
St. Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28) What barriers in our world need to come down, what borders need to be crossed? What divisions do we foster and feel comfortable with? Today, Jesus places his fingers in our ears saying, “Ephphatha!” (which means ‘Be opened!’).