The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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September 8, 2000 Issue
Fr. Ver Bust's Column:
"Explaining the Gospel"

Fr. Richard Ver Bust
Fr. Richard Ver Bust

Hear Jesus proclaiming the Kingdom

Jesus does not hide behind external rules in sharing his message

September 10, Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Fr. Richard Ver Bust

Jesus' mission was to the people of Israel and he lived, preached and cured the sick almost entirely within the borders of Israel. Mark, in today's Gospel reading, tells of one of the few times that Jesus went beyond those borders.

Jesus went north of Galilee, first to Tyre, then to Sidon, and finally to an area of Greek Gentile cities called the Decapolis. The people who inhabited these places were primarily Gentiles. When Jesus went there, he found people of faith who accepted his message.

Mark describes a particular healing episode, which in many ways is unique. There were stories of other persons who healed the sick even among the Gentiles. Normally they used certain actions and special words, which indicated that a healing should take place.

Most of the other stories of Jesus curing the sick follow a certain pattern that doesn't involve such techniques. Some scholars think that this story developed in Gentile settings and, therefore, those who told the story did so according to the pattern that was common in the Gentile world. They have a special dramatic touch.

Jesus often touched people whom he healed, not so much as to convey power, but to show that he shared his feelings for them. To touch a person who was sick and ritually unclean, meant that the one who touched them also became unclean. Jesus wanted to show that these regulations often obscured the real meaning of the law of God. Just as in the story we heard last week, Jesus wanted to get to the heart of real religion and not hide behind external rules.

In today's story, we hear that Jesus touched the man's ears and with his own saliva touched his tongue. The man was deaf and because he couldn't hear, he had never learned to speak properly.

Jesus then looked up to heaven, groaned and in Aramaic commanded that the man's ears be opened. The groan might be interpreted as a prayer by the bystanders. But the words were clear.

We might not think about it but to hear is very important especially in ancient cultures. They were primarily oral and one who could not hear then was at a real disadvantage and isolated from society. There probably was no sign language like today. It probably also was considered an affliction caused by someone's sins. Mark has stressed that people must hear Jesus' words that announce the coming of the kingdom. A person who is deaf would be unable to do so.

Now this man could hear what Jesus would proclaim.

We can imagine the crowd was astounded. Jesus, however, commanded them not to tell anyone else. Interesting in so many of the other stories in Mark's Gospel it is the person who is cured that is commanded not to tell anyone. Now Jesus tells the crowd to do so. Yet as one would expect, they failed to follow his command.

It is interesting that Mark tells us that they "proclaimed" what Jesus had done. This is the same word that he uses to describe what Jesus does in teaching, that is, "proclaims the Kingdom of God."

We heard in the first reading from the prophet Isaiah that the future times would bring healing to the blind and deaf. So Mark is also telling his readers that the future times have arrived in the person and actions of Jesus. In Luke's Gospel, when John sends messengers to inquire whether Jesus is the one who is to come, Jesus replies with these same words of Isaiah. He allows them to judge whether the Messiah and Messianic Age have come.

(Fr. Ver Bust is professor emeritus in religious studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)

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