Thursday, August 27, 2015

Gospel Irrespressible

Mark 7:24-37, the gospel text appointed for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, is a unique text.  In this text there are all sorts of hints that Jesus wants to hide his presence and his miracles, and furthermore, that he is healing only reluctantly.  Of course, we are well acquainted with the so-called Markan secret, whereby Jesus regularly orders his followers to "tell no one" of the extraordinary events which surround him, yet here Mark shows us how irrepressible this gospel word is.  In spite of himself, Jesus agrees to heal the Syrophonecian woman's daughter and the deaf man with the impediment of speech.  Could it be that God's healing grace is so out-of-control that not even Jesus can stop it?  Hm...  Now there's something to ponder.

(The following questions are taken from my book on Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted.  If you find these questions helpful, I recommend you purchase the book and become fully acquainted with the method.)

1. How does the Word function in the text?  Jesus, the Word, is functioning to heal, albeit reluctantly.  In the case of the Greek/Syrophonecian woman (Matthew has her as a Canaanite), Jesus initially refuses her, but later agrees to exorcise the demon from her daugher, although the way Mark tells it, Jesus simply reports to the woman that the healing is accomplished; he doesn't seem to have anything at all to do with it.  Likewise, in the healing of the deaf man Jesus shows signs of exasperation.  In verse 34 we are told that Jesus "sighed"; this might be better translated "groaned".  It is almost as if Jesus was saying, "Ok, let's get this over with."  It is noteworthy that both of these healed ones are from pagan lands.  It's almost as if Jesus is being forced to kneel before the healing will of God, so he heals in spite of himself. Curious, to say the least!

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  There is no word of Law that points to our need for Jesus, except what could be gathered metaphorically, that we are all filled with "demons," and "dumb and deaf" in some regard.  We are all in need of exorcism and healing - release from our sins.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  In this text we have several options:  we could identify with those who bring others to Jesus, seeking healing for them, or we could identify with those needing healing.  In both scenes we have the infirmed who were brought to Jesus by others.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  Perhaps the call to obedience ("Follow me!") is the call to bring others to Jesus.   Perhaps we should take a clue from these compassionate advocates and spend time imploring Jesus that he provide healing and release for others.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  In my book (pg. 29) I outline Herman Stuempfle's classic law/gospel couplets.  Despair/hope and alienation/reconciliation are several of his favorite pairings.  They might provide fodder for thought, if we assume the place of the infirmed.

6.  Exegetical work:  Kurt Aland's seminal work, Synopsis of the Four Gospels, often opens up gates to understanding that would otherwise have remained closed to us.  If we look at these stories side-by-side with their Matthean parallel (Mt. 15:21-31) we see a number of interesting details:  1) Only Matthew and Mark report these stories; 2) Mark, alone includes the detail that "[Jesus] entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there.  Yet he could not escape notice..." (vs. 24) and after the second miracle, "Jesus ordered them to tell no one: but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it." (vs. 36).  Mark seems eager to bear witness to the irrespressible joy that the Word brings. Finally, we note in the parallel stories that Mark provides an abundance of detail in the healing of a single deaf/dumb man, while Matthew only says that great crowds brought many who were in need of healing and Jesus healed them.  Mark clearly wants us to know that this particular man was healed in this particular way.  It would be a frutiful exercise to inquire why this is.

Blessings on your proclamation!

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