beggarsThe final story in Mark 7 tells of “some people” who came to Jesus on behalf of a deaf/mute. We do not know their names. We do not know their relationship to the man in question. We can only assume they were friends and neighbors who felt compassion for a man walled off in silence and shuttered by a broken tongue.

Like the woman, they had not right to Jesus—they were Gentiles and strangers. (This occurred in the region of the Decapolis, Gentile territory.) Yet they had heard of Jesus and his miraculous power. Perhaps they even believed the stories they’d heard. For whatever reason, they brought the man to Jesus and “begged Jesus to place his hand on him” (7:32).

The man himself is entirely passive. Mark gives no hint to his attitude or frame of mind. It is his friends who have brought him to Jesus. It is their faith that has moved them to approach Jesus for mercy. This poor sufferer is led into the presence of the One who will change his life with no indication of agreement or even understanding.

But when it comes to desperation, Jesus is not particular. The desperation of the man’s friends will serve his purposes as well as the desperation of the man himself.

He took the man “aside, away from the crowd” (7:33) and—presumably—away from the very friends whose faith had orchestrated this encounter. There, Jesus engaged in an act of shocking intimacy. He pokes his fingers in the man’s ears. He spits on his own fingers and places his fingers (and his spit) on the man’s tongue. Perhaps the man is desperate after all. What else could move a man to permit such intimacies but desperation?

It must be said that Jesus doesn’t require all this intimacy to heal someone. Often enough, he heals with just a word. There are times (as in the story of the demon-possessed daughter above), he heals at long distance.

Yet, at the same time, Jesus is peculiarly partial to touching. He places his fingers on the scabby skin of the leper. He takes a dead girl’s hand before calling her back to life. Even so, Mark never describes anything like this. Fingers in ears! Spit on tongue!

The result, of course, is that “the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly” (7:35).

Is it reading too much into this story to see in Jesus’ intimacies a certain eagerness to engage desperation? A hunger to break down any wall that would separate him from the desperate and their cry for mercy? This is Jesus in the role of father, running to meet a dead son, falling on his filthy neck and kissing him much.

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