When our son, Brian, was about three years old, we got a dalmatian puppy. When dalmatians are young, they are a handful. Brian couldn’t say spots. It came out as pots. We wanted to name her Daisy, so we registered her name as Daisy May Potts. Even after she was full grown, Daisy always considered herself a lap dog.
One night we had spaghetti with a tomato sauce and we knew that Brian was going to make a mess, which would provide us with some Kodak moments we could use when he was older.
I don’t remember the exact details, but it must have begun when Brian accidentally dropped some spaghetti on the floor. Of course, there was our spotted companion who eagerly gobbled up what was dropped. This was very amusing to Brian. So now, he would pick up some spaghetti and throw it to the floor. Daisy would jump on it while Brian giggled, which meant he would do it over and over again. Also, Daisy accumulated some red on her coat.
Brian did produce the expected face covered with tomato sauce moment. We don’t know where those pictures are today or if we even have them anymore. Maybe we gave them to Brian.
Crumbs are an inevitable part of dining, whether you are a child or an adult. That’s why God invented napkins. It is true today and it was probably true as long as there have been human beings.
We were gone for three weeks in August 0f 2021. We were in Utah when the Caldor fire broke out. We kept track of it through the internet and on TV news. Utah Idaho, and Wyoming weather forecasters included California smoke forecasts in their TV segments. Wildfire smoke was a constant on our trip. As the fire approached Placerville, Brian was on standby to get important documents out of the house.
When we dined in restaurants during our trip, we had napkins on our laps. (It’s expected in polite company.) We didn’t bother, otherwise. We were careful to keep the crumbs on our plates. Jesus made trips, too, and he tried to have a vacation or two.
We are in a portion of Mark’s gospel that is like a travel log.
Jesus was in the Gennesaret region, north of the Sea of Galilee, when he decided to go to the Phoenician coast city of Tyre, which is now in Lebanon. The Canaanites we read about in the Bible were Phoenicians. Phoenicians were once a mighty trading people who settled in much of the Mediterranean. After Alexander the Great and then the Romans, that was, essentially, the end of that.
Still, Tyre was an impressive city in Jesus’ time. It would be rather cosmopolitan and it would be really non-Jewish. Jesus was in enemy territory. However, Tyre might have been more welcoming than the constant attacks from the temple authorities that Jesus endured in the Galilee.
It seems Jesus was in need of a break from the Galilean crowds and their demands and the heckling from the Jewish authorities. The people of Tyre would not care about some itinerant Jewish preacher wandering into town. Even then, Jesus didn’t want anyone to know he was there. Jesus’ plan failed.
At least one person knew who Jesus was and she took her shot at getting Jesus to help her. She was not a Jew, but she was desperate for help and didn’t seem to care about religious pedigrees. She may have thought that if this Jew can help her then who cares if he is a Jew.
An additional impediment was that a Jewish man could not be seen with an unaccompanied woman. It is especially bad if that woman is not a Jew. The woman’s desperation is acute and societal bounds must be broken. She has nothing to lose but her daughter. Jesus would be justified in kicking her out.
This woman’s daughter had what Mark describes as an unclean spirt. It is unlikely that the Phoenician woman cared whether the spirit was clean or unclean. That is more of a Jewish distinction that would have made little sense to her. This phrase, unclean spirit, is used elsewhere in the New Testament implying demonic possession.
This unnamed woman begged Jesus to cast out the demon inhabiting her daughter. Jesus may have been perturbed that he was asked to do work, work that he went to Tyre to escape from. Jesus went to Tyre to rest. It is like being on vacation when you get a call from work. You might think to yourself, “Well, I got to take the call, but I don’t have to like it.”
Jesus dismissed the woman by telling her that the children are to be fed first and not have their food taken and thrown to dogs. Very few dogs would have minded that. In other words, Jesus is there for the Jews and gentiles are no better than dogs.
This woman was not only persistent, but she was also very quick and clever. She brushed off the insult of being compared to a dog and said that even dogs eat the food that children drop (or throw) on the floor. I have seen with my own two eyes a child throw food to the floor and then giggle, I mean giggle, when the dog rushes over to eat the thrown food. You know, tomato sauce is unbecoming on a dalmatian. The woman would be satisfied with a crumb.
She won the argument. The woman assumed the role of a prophet and confronted Jesus, reminding him of his responsibility to humankind and not just the Jews. Jesus relented. Jesus declared that the woman’s daughter was healed, the demon is gone. The woman returned home and her daughter was cured.
Cynically, it might be noted that Jesus’ healing of the woman’s daughter was just to get rid of her. Whatever Jesus’ motive was for the healing, it was done. More significantly, Jesus expanded his healing ministry beyond Jews to someone who was not a Jew. Gentiles were no longer excluded from Jesus’ grace.
Jesus then headed north on the coast to Sidon, another Phoenician city, then he turned east toward the Jordan River that is north of Galilee. Jesus went past Galilee to the Decapolis, a region of ten gentile cities or towns. Just to emphasize, Jesus traveled through predominately Jewish territory to go to another gentile region. We are not told where in the Decapolis Jesus went. Just a note, the Galilee region was not exclusively Jewish.
Jesus’ reputation apparently also traveled from nearby Galilee to the Decapolis. Again, religious affiliation was no impediment to the local people and it is now no impediment to Jesus. Some people bring a deaf man who, understandably, has speech issues. These people more than likely spoke Greek. Jesus spoke Aramaic. There is no mention of a translator or if anyone was bilingual.
These people wish Jesus to heal a man’s impediments. They were probably relatives, but Mark gives no details about the man or those who brought him.
In first century Palestine, a man with these disabilities would not be pitied. He would be considered a sinner and that somehow, he deserved being deaf with a speech impediment. He must have lost his hearing later in life, because he is not a mute. His deafness would have put him on the bottom rung of society. Even the poor would be thought of as betters.
Jesus privately took the man away from the crowd. Whereas Jesus healed from a distance in the previous story, Jesus is now very hands on. Jesus put his fingers in the man’s ears. Jesus put his spittle on the man’s tongue. Then Jesus looked up and prayed.
Now we get back to language. Jesus says, “Ephphatha.” It is an Aramaic word that literally means to open the womb, but was also used to figuratively perceive or understand something. For example, to open one’s ears to hear or listen or interpret. When Mark translates Ephphatha into Greek, he uses the word dianoichtheti. This means to utilize or perceive a body part. Or our English translations keep it simple and say, “Be opened.”
Whereas, the Syrophoenician daughter was healed without Jesus’ presence, Jesus puts a lot at play in this healing. He uses touch, spit, prayer, and a command. Presumably, Jesus is commanding the man’s ears. Before Jesus commanded a demon.
Immediately, the man could hear and speak plainly. The man was restored to society. Jesus seems to have returned the man back to his friends and family, because he orders them to tell no one about what just happened. Of course, they go blabbing about it to seemingly anyone who would listen, which is pretty ironic.
Now we have to give them some slack here. Here is this man who was deaf and couldn’t speak well and now he can. People are going to ask what happened. The friends and family can either lie or tell the truth. They chose to tell the truth. Jesus healed the man. “He even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” (Mark 7:37c)
Here, we hear two healing stories in the midst of a pandemic. Unlike most of Jesus’ healing interventions, these two are for gentiles and not Jews. Pandemics are nothing new. Jesus and the disciples likely never physically endured a pandemic. But there were many pandemics before their time and we might assume they heard stories of ancestors who survived them. An argument could be made that if not for a pandemic that wiped out most of the Roman army, Rome might have never fallen. Or, at least, not as soon as it did.
Our pandemic is different from all the other pandemics before it. Vaccines are relatively new in medicine and human history. The vaccines that are available to us now were made in record time using new technology. This created some skepticism. Yet, they work and work very well. Thousands of lives will be saved because of the innovation of mRNA.
Jesus gives us a pathway in these difficult times. Even in the midst of a pandemic, we are separated in the response to it. Jesus’ response to need, even though it was initially relucent in the first case, was compassion.
Jesus did not just heal physical or spiritual issues. Jesus restored the victims to society. We live in a time when people are divided into camps. In a pandemic with people dying, we are driven by fear. We are driven by a fear of death and from infection. We are driven by fear that our freedom is being taken away from us.
I don’t like wearing a mask. But I will if it makes others feel more comfortable. I got vaccinated so I would not have to wear a mask and also so I would not end up in a hospital and possibly die. Granted, I am closer to the end than to the beginning, but I would like to stick around a little while longer.
Perhaps, the question for those who are hesitant in getting vaccinated might be, “What would you do to help the people around you, your family and friends?” Making the question open ended might provoke solutions we have not thought of before. Doing nothing, though, is not an option.
Many of those who were infected with COVID-19 and survived continue to suffer from the aftereffects of the disease. The little Syrophoenician girl was healthy until she wasn’t. What were her aftereffects from demonic possession? She couldn’t see a therapist, because they hadn’t been invented yet. Injuries to one’s mental health, in those, days were to just deal with it on your own.
In order to help those with lingering COVID and other scars, we need to work together. That means we need to be less selfish and put away our animosity toward those with differing views. We can get out of this mess if we work together.