Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on February 12, 2010

Gospel reading of the day:

Mark 7:31-37

Again Jesus left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis. And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!”— that is, “Be opened!” — And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly. He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it. They were exceedingly astonished and they said, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

Reflection on the gospel reading: Most scholars of the New Testament believe that Matthew and Luke each had a copy of Mark’s gospel in front of him when he wrote his own gospel. What is unusual about the story we receive today from Mark’s gospel about the healing of the deaf mute is that neither Matthew nor Luke chose to use this narrative when he wrote his gospel.

There are some elements of the story that perhaps suggest why Matthew and Luke did not record this healing in their gospels. Jesus employs six ritual actions with magical connotations for the Hellenistic world in his healing of the man: he takes the man aside, puts hands in the man’s ears, spits, touches the tongue, groans deeply, and commands a healing. These intimations of the behaviors of a Gentile magician to affect a cure might have troubled Matthew and Luke.

But there are elements of the story that Matthew and Luke might have overlooked when they chose to ignore the story. First, Jesus was traveling in the Gentile region of Tyre and Sidon, and so he employs acculturated actions to heal the man since he mimics the behaviors of the Hellenistic magicians. In other words, Jesus enters the culture of the communities where he is to find rituals that are meaningful to the people around him. But even more, he proves himself entirely superior to such magicians he mimics because ultimately, the healing that Jesus works relies not on the ritualistic actions he performs but on his powerful word, “Be opened.”

Baptism_-_Marcellinus_and_PeterBut there is still another way to understand this text, and it is one with implications for us as Christians since Jesus’ method of healing recalls certain ritual actions of the baptismal ceremony. Ambrose, the great late fourth century bishop from northern Italy, provides us the first intimation that the priest, during baptism, placed his hands in the ears of the person being baptized “to open them to the words” the priest says, and a 12th century text from the same tradition refers to the use of spittle in the rite. Indeed, the touching of ears and placement of spittle on the tongue were for long years a part of the baptismal ceremony of the Church, and in the ancient Church occurred during an invocation of the Holy Spirit on the person to receive baptism. The touching of the ears continues in today’s baptismal ceremony.

This gives us a viewpoint to look at this text in a way that fills it up with meaning for our own situations as baptized persons. When the man comes to Jesus in today’s reading, he cannot hear, neither can he speak clearly. Similarly, before the grace of our baptism, we cannot hear the word of God nor speak plainly about the truth of our lives. It is through our baptism, with its gift of the Holy Spirit, that we receive the power to hear the Word of God and proclaim it. With the gifts of Jesus’ healing through our baptism, we, like the deaf man and those who observed the healing, herald the message of the messiah’s entry into human history just as did John the Baptist, the disciples, and the post-resurrection community. Jesus tries to restrain the healed man in today’s gospel from telling anyone, but the more he tries to restrain him, the louder the healed man announces it. Indeed, he was under an internal impulse to proclaim the good news: he simply could not do otherwise than he did. And such too is our own condition: if we really are excited about the gospel, we have little choice but to tell the good news we have received.

Saint of the day: Today we honor a group of martyrs consisting of James Fenn, John Nutter, John Munden, and Thomas Hemerford, who were martyred in 1584 at Tyburn, England and beatified in 1929. While they died during the same persecution and were beatified at the same time, they are not included among the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

James Fenn was born in Montacute near Yeovil, Somerset, and was educated at Corpus Christi College and Gloucester Hall at Oxford. He became a school master and married. Upon his wife’s death, he studied in Rheims and was ordained to the priesthood in 1580.

John Nutter was born near Burnley, Lancastershire, and was a fellow of Saint John’s College, Cambridge. He studied for the priesthood at Rheims and was ordained in 1581.

John Munden, a native of Coltley, South Maperton, Dorset, studied at New College, Oxford, became a school master, went to Rheims and to Rome for his ecclesiastical training and was ordained in 1582.

Thomas Hemerford, a native of Dorsetshire, was educated at Saint John’s College and Hart Hall, Oxford. He studied for the priesthood at the English College in Rome, where he was ordained in 1583–just a year before his death.

Spiritual reading: God, deliver me from sullen saints. (Teresa of Avila)

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