Two blogs ago I suggested that anyone interested in the idea of reclaiming Jesus should read through the Gospel of Mark, as a reminder of how the first Christians remembered Jesus. I’ve just obeyed my suggestion by reading the Contemporary English Version, which gives a very succinct translation. Here is a taste of it:
“ Jesus left and went to the region near the city of Tyre, where he stayed in someone’s home. He did not want people to know he was there, but they found out anyway. 25 A woman whose daughter had an evil spirit in her heard where Jesus was. And right away she came and knelt down at his feet. 26 The woman was Greek and had been born in the part of Syria known as Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to force the demon out of her daughter. 27 But Jesus said, “The children must first be fed! It isn’t right to take away their food and feed it to dogs.”
28 The woman replied, “Lord, even dogs eat the crumbs that children drop from the table.”
29 Jesus answered, “That’s true! You may go now. The demon has left your daughter.” 30 When the woman got back home, she found her child lying on the bed. The demon had gone.
Jesus Heals a Man Who Was Deaf and Could Hardly Talk
31 Jesus left the region around Tyre and went by way of Sidon toward Lake Galilee. He went through the land near the ten cities known as Decapolis. Some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk. They begged Jesus just to touch him.
33 After Jesus had taken him aside from the crowd, he stuck his fingers in the man’s ears. Then he spit and put it on the man’s tongue. 34 Jesus looked up toward heaven, and with a groan he said, “Effatha!” which means “Open up!” 35 At once the man could hear, and he had no more trouble talking clearly.
36 Jesus told the people not to say anything about what he had done. But the more he told them, the more they talked about it. 37 They were completely amazed and said, “Everything he does is good! He even heals people who cannot hear or talk.”
One of the things we should see in this excerpt is that Mark is a genius at telling a story. He doesn’t give too many details, but those he does give are all lively: Jesus wants to get out of the firing line so he goes out of his own territory, but he is too well known, and gets caught by this desperate woman. Annoyed he insults her by emphasising her foreigness with the term “dog” but the woman, out of love for her daughter, accepts the insult with good humour. Jesus realises what he’s said, and responds to her need. The girl is healed.
Then he heads back home via another sort of foreign place, an area colonised by Greek conquerors, the ten towns. People bring him a man who is unable to hear or speak. They want to see some magic, but Jesus takes the poor man aside, touching his ears with his hands and his tongue with his spit, telling him to “Open up!” And the man is healed.
Why does Mark put these two stories together? ( He almost certainly had no information about the real succession of events in Jesus’ ministry). The answer is in the command to “Open up!” Initially Jesus had been closed to the woman, but she had been open enough to jolt him into responding. Their mutual openness allowed God’s goodness to help the girl. So when Jesus meets another needy person, who is closed to others by his deafness, he knows already that God wants the man to open up. The Aramaic word which Jesus used is very expressive. If you say it aloud, you can hear it as a powerful command.
Mark presents Jesus as a person who is open to God and other people and wants everyone to be the same.
Does the above passage chime with your image of Jesus? Is it a bit disturbing to think that he might have had his off-days, and have had to learn from a foreign woman? Is Mark’s vivid picture of Jesus’ physical gestures of healing not a litttle bizarre? And isn’t it very strange to think of a physical disability as something closed that needs opening?
But isn’t wonderful to hear for ourselves, for our lives, Jesus’ command to “Open up!” for we know that what makes us and all human beings wrong is our closedness.
As a minister I have known people, often very good people, to whom I was closed. My relationship with them was via a persona that I offered in place of myself, which could therefore not be a genuine engagement. The current news issue about Boris Johnson’s characterisation of burqa wearers is not about their closedness but his. In the twenty five years of my association with a congregation in Northern Ireland I have learned how communities may close themselves off from each other, as well as how, with great fear and courage, they may open themselves to each other.
Jesus, the One who commands openness for himself and his followers, is relevant to our most intimate, as well as our most public, relationships. For that reason alone, he’s worth reclaiming.