by Fr. Tommy Lane
Jesus is back in the region of the Decapolis again (Mark 7:31-37). We would not have expected a return visit by Jesus because, as we read two chapters earlier in Mark, the people asked Jesus to depart from there after he healed the demoniac when their herd of two thousand pigs charged over the cliff into sea and drowned (Mark 5:17). Now Jesus is back in that area again and although there is no mention of the people welcoming Jesus they bring him a man in need of healing. We see a markedly different attitude in the people this time. Now they are not concerned about the huge economic loss of their large herd but instead are concerned for the wellbeing of this deaf man with a speech impediment. After Jesus’ departure the first time, they had plenty of time to reflect on the healing of the demoniac and realized that only for Jesus that man would still be in the mess he was in. They could see that Jesus had changed the demoniac’s life and must have come to realize that there is something worth much more than two thousand pigs; the spiritual, mental, and physical wellbeing of one person.
This area is the Decapolis, (Deka Polis in Greek), literally translated, Ten Cities. It was a federation of ten pagan cities within the area of Israel. Everything about these ten cities was Greek, including the way they were governed and their worship using the names of Greek gods. But when someone was suffering, such as the deaf man in today’s gospel, they knew this pagan culture did not satisfy them, their only hope was Jesus. All the glitter of the Greek culture did not really fulfill their deepest longing, only Jesus. So they brought the deaf man with the speech impediment to Jesus.
As Jesus healed him, Jesus looked up to heaven and groaned. This groan or sigh of Jesus expresses the need humanity has for healing from God. Since original sin, we are broken and wounded, and we are really groaning and sighing to God to put us right again. As Jesus groaned, he looked up to heaven because the deep healing we need only comes from heaven, not from anything the ancient or any modern Decapolis can offer. And talking of healing original sin, the actions of Jesus in this healing miracle are part of the Rite of Baptism since the time of the early Church, as the priest blesses the ears and mouth of the newly baptized.
There are two things worth noting in the drama of Jesus healing that man. The man was healed because the people brought him to Jesus. We have to go to Jesus with our problems, we cannot stay where we are, we have to go to Jesus for our problems to be resolved and healed. Jesus is always there for us. When we are alone, Jesus is our friend waiting for us to approach him. When we are in darkness, Jesus is our light waiting to enlighten us. When we are in despair Jesus is the truth waiting to give us hope. When we are suffering, Jesus is our divine physician waiting to heal us and raise us up.
The second thing we notice is that Jesus took the man away from the crowd, so they were alone, Jesus and the man in need of Jesus’ healing. That time alone with Jesus was the most precious time in that man’s whole life; everything before this moment was leading to this special moment, and the rest of his life was transformed after this moment. These moments alone with Jesus were the most important moments of his life, they defined the rest of his life, and surely the rest of the lives of those who knew him and lived with him. Likewise, our moments with Jesus every day are the most important moments of our day, and define the rest of our day. It is during these moments alone with Jesus when Jesus our friend enlightens our darkness, changes our despair to hope, heals us to raise us up, “touches our ears to receive his word, and touches our mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God.” (Rite of Baptism p71) Yesterday we celebrated the memorial of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. The centerpiece of her spirituality was meditating on Jesus’ words on the cross, “I thirst.” She asked to have the words “I thirst” placed beside the crucifix in every one of her convents. Jesus is waiting for us, waiting for us to go away from the crowd to spend time with him. When Jesus said on the cross, “I thirst,” he was not just dehydrated, but also telling us of his longing for us to go away every day to spend time with him.
Three centuries before Christ, Alexander the Great took over all this part of the world and it adopted Greek culture which remained strong in the Decapolis. Mark concludes the account of the miracle in an extraordinary way by quoting what these Gentiles in pagan Decapolis say about Jesus, “He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” (Mark 7:37) Without realizing it, these Gentiles three centuries after Alexander are proclaiming that Isaiah’s prophecy in our first reading has been fulfilled in Jesus. After Jesus’ first visit we would not have expected such a response to Jesus any time soon. But that acceptance of Jesus and the Gospel continued in the Decapolis in the following decades and centuries so that after another three centuries one of the bishops attending the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople was the bishop of Hippos, one of these ten cities.
This is what happens when we spend time with Jesus alone away from the crowd; we are transformed and the books of history are written differently, even if it is only centuries later that we see this. Jesus is always there for us. When we are alone, Jesus is our friend waiting for us to approach him. When we are in darkness, Jesus is our light waiting to enlighten us. When we are in despair Jesus is the truth waiting to give us hope. When we are suffering, Jesus is our divine physician waiting to heal us and raise us up. He “touches our ears to receive his word, and our mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God.”
© Fr. Tommy Lane 2015
More homilies for the Twenty-Third Sunday Year B
Related Homilies: on Jesus as healer Jesus our Healer
Second Reading: We are all Equal in Dignity before God