Year B 23rd Sunday: Mark 7:31-37

31 Returning from the territory of Tyre, he went by way of Sidon
towards the Lake of Galilee, right through the Decapolis territory.
32 And they brought him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech;
and they asked him to lay his hand on him.
33 He took him aside to be by themselves, away from the crowd,
put his fingers into the man's ears and touched his tongue with spittle.
34 Then looking up to heaven he sighed;
and he said to him, 'Ephphatha,' that is, 'Be opened.'
35 And his ears were opened, and at once
the impediment of his tongue was loosened and he spoke clearly.
36 And Jesus ordered them to tell no one about it,
but the more he insisted, the more widely they proclaimed it.
37 Their admiration was unbounded, and they said,
'Everything he does is good, he makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.'


Jesus is abroad. He goes from Tyrus and Sidon to Decapolis, pagan regions. Even there he does his Messianic work by healing people; he himself calls it 'the bread' he has to give. In the foregoing story we heard about the Hellenic mother who pleaded for the healing of her possessed daughter. She made clear to him that so-called impure people share 'the bread' which is destined for the people of God (7:24-30). The result is that Jesus heals a pagan man in Decapolis today.


Jesus touches the sick man. That is stunning. A sick man was impure according to the culture of his days. By touching impure people one would become as impure as they are. This man was impure even twice, for he was a pagan as well. The gestures of Jesus remind us of the creation stories where God moulded the human beings and blew the breath of the spirit into them.
Jesus completes the creation and makes it 'good' (vs.37).

God's language

We hear how he is speaking his own Aramaic language: tape-recording of Jesus' voice. Is it to emphasize that Jesus brings the language of God's people to pagans? So it seems. For immediately after the healing Mark tells us that the man speaks 'rightly'. The Greek text says: he spoke 'orthoos'. Is there a reminiscence of the word 'ortho-doxy'? Did he speak the true language of God now?
If so, then it was not only the healed man who spoke 'orthoos' but all the people, for they immediately begin to quote the prophet Isaiah (35:5-6): 'Everything he does is good, he makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.'

Messianic Secret

Jesus forbids them to talk about it. He did so several times before and he will repeat it later. Why? I think it is because the Messianic story is not only a story of healings, but also a story of persecution, suffering and violent death. Only when he continues to be Messianic, even in circumstances of hatred and being humiliated and killed because of his healing work, may he be called Messiah. Not before.

Picture Meditation

This wood carving is to be found in the Anglican cathedral of Worcester.

The artist shows us Jesus, healing the deaf-mute man who is kneeling before him. There are some bystanders, on the right they are looking at Jesus' face; on the left they are looking at Jesus' gestures. We notice that the artist places Jesus exactly in the centre of the picture and that Jesus rises a little bit higher than the people around him...

Jesus is in full action: his left hand upon the mouth of the man, the index and the middle finger of his right hand in the left ear.

The man is looking up at Jesus; Jesus for his part is looking up at the heaven... What he is doing is a gift from heaven. Jesus as the mediator between heaven and earth, completing God's creation.

Opening ears and mouth may refer to being opened for God's mystery.

How is it with my ears and mouth?

by Fr Dries van den Akker SJ

St Mark's Gospel Reflections