Signpost for Sunday 6 September, 2015: Prov 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; Ps 125; James 2:1-10, 14-17; Mark 7:24-37
In his June 28 Signpost Andrew wrote, “How we understand today’s Gospel depends largely on how we regard miracle.” That thought could well have a bearing on this week’s Gospel too.
That’s why, whether you think that miracles are literally true or not, don’t focus on these two miracles as miracles, but instead look at the point of the miracles, because the miracles here are not the point at all.
It’s not the miraculous healing of the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter that Mark wants us to take real notice of, it’s the fact that she is a Syrophoenician – gentile, and a woman.
It comes as an astonishing about turn when Jesus agrees with the woman and grants her request. Even more so when we notice that Jesus doesn’t say anything about the woman’s faith being the reason for the demon to leave her daughter. Instead, it is the justice of her argument alone that Jesus singles out (verse 29).
The author of Mark clearly wants us to think about why Jesus loses the argument, and why on earth he loses it to a foreigner and a woman. The clue, I think, is in last week’s reading from the same gospel. Mark is again emphasising to his first century readers that both Jews and gentiles must be included as followers of ‘the way’.
There’s a clue in last week’s reading about the point of the second miracle, too. Those first century readers – or listeners – to Mark’s gospel would have spotted it straight away. While we might wonder about the veracity of a miraculous healing of a deaf and dumb man, the ancients would have been much more astonished that Jesus poked his fingers into the man’s ears, spat (into his own hands?) and then touched the man’s tongue. As far as they are concerned, Jesus has just made himself ritually ‘unclean’; saliva was seen as a contaminant and by doing this Jesus is being seen to dramatically refute of the Jewish purity laws. But look back at Mark 7:15, and I think it’s likely that Mark is making another point for the benefit of the new gentile Christ-followers: ritual cleanliness just is not important to followers of the way.
Of course, he cleverly nullifies Jesus’ ritual uncleanness by echoing Isaiah 35: 5-6, “…the eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped…and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy.” Not to mention the fact that the author of Mark wants his readers and listeners to believe that Jesus is the Messianic figure spoken of by Isaiah.