Mark 7:31-37


Mark moves from Jesus’ encounter with the Syrophoenician woman to an encounter with a deaf and mute man.  As with the woman, this account takes place in a mostly Gentile region.   However, unlike the previous encounter, where Jesus healed the woman’s daughter without ever touching or even seeing her, here he heals this man with a very “personal” touch.  Mark is the only gospel writer to include this in his account.  Because Mark’s style is short and to the point, we know he included this healing for a reason.

#1 The man does not come to Jesus on his own.

31Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him.   Mark 7:31-32

Jesus catches an indirect flight with a few layovers before reaching his destination of the Decapolis.  He first travels north the 20 or so miles from Tyre to Sidon, and then he heads south from Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, and finally he arrives in the Decapolis.  This is not his first visit to this region.  Remember the healing of the demoniac amongst the tombs took place nearby (c.f. Mark 5:1-20).  Historians tell us that like Tyre and Sidon, the Decapolis was predominantly a Gentile region.  However, it was not completely without a Jewish influence as there were several settled communities of Jews living in the region.

Upon coming into town, several unnamed people bring to Jesus a man who was perhaps a friend of theirs.  This man has a two-fold condition.  We are told he has both a hearing and a speaking problem.   These issues are often tied together and commentators are split as to whether or not this man may have been born with this condition or if he developed it later in life.  Mark does not tell us.

Sometimes the Bible uses being deaf and mute as an analogy for our spiritual inabilities.  For instance in a well-known passage in Isaiah, the prophet is given the following commission:

And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”  Isaiah 6:9-10

In this passage God is not referring to his people’s physical eyes and ears, but to their spiritual faculties of seeing and hearing.  This is an awful verdict to hear from God — you are spiritually deaf, blind, and dull.

While this man that Jesus meets might also be spiritually deaf and spiritually mute, he is most obviously physically deaf and physically mute.  This is where it gets interesting!  The Greek word that the ESV renders as “speech impediment” is the word mogilalos and it is used only once in the entire New Testament.  (The slightly more common word to describe someone who is mute is the word alalos and it is used later in the passage in verse 37).  The only other time mogilalos appears in the entire Bible is in Isaiah in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament from the 2nd century BC).  Here is that passage:

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.  Isaiah 35:5-6

What the ESV renders “mute” in Isaiah is the same word used by Mark in our passage.  This is even more noteworthy given the fact that Isaiah 35 is a Messianic passage describing the future coming of the Lord to save his people.  In other words, we learn from Isaiah that when the Messiah comes to establish the kingdom of God, there will be certain signs.  The blind will see.  The deaf will hear.  The lame will leap.  The mute will sing.  Perhaps God’s people believed these verses to be referring to our spiritual faculties of seeing and hearing and speaking and ultimately they are right.  But when Jesus arrives he restores not only spiritual faculties but physical faculties as well.  We tend to be more amazed by physical healings, like making the deaf to hear, when the far greater work of spiritual healings, like making the spiritually deaf to hear, are of far greater consequence.

#2 Healing comes at a spiritual cost to Jesus.

33And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.  Mark 7:33-35

Presumably this man came to Jesus in a crowd.  Jesus’ first step, therefore, was to take him aside, away from prying eyes.  Remember that Jesus has just  returned from Tyre and Sidon where he healed a girl without even being physically present.  Now in this healing he gets very physical.  Ephrem the Syrian (a theologian from the 4th century) reminds us that when God took on flesh in Jesus he allowed the desperate to draw near to him so “that in touching his humanity they may discern his divinity (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Mark, p.97).” This man certainly experienced a very human side of Jesus. Jesus put his fingers in his ears and touched his tongue and used his own spittle.  In this very “human” encounter, the man experienced the divine.

But why these elaborate actions of Jesus?  The answer is that Jesus was “speaking” to this deaf man in a language he could receive. Jesus was willing to meet the man where he was.  He could have, as he did with the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman, healed him from afar.  He choose instead to meet the man where he was.

Jesus looks to heaven and sighs as he gives a command the man cannot hear.  That Jesus sighs as he is healing this man, gives us a window into his heart.  Healing is a spiritual battle.  Jesus is groaning as the whole creation has been groaning waiting for redemption (c.f. Romans 8:22).  We groan as we bear the condition of our own sin and misery awaiting its complete removal.  Jesus groans because he is the agent of that redemption and all that sin and misery is placed squarely on his shoulders.  Even in this account, we get a sense that any healing Jesus performs comes at a spiritual cost.

#3 The people are zealous in testifying to what Jesus has done.

36And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”  Mark 7:36-37

The last time Jesus was near the Decapolis he instructed the man healed of many demons to go and tell others “how much the Lord has done for you.”  Now he insists on silence.  But the more he commanded them the more they spoke.  This is not a command he gives us, nor would it be necessary as many are quite content remaining silent!  In this context Jesus did not want this healing proclaimed.  It was not yet time for this to be made known.  Obviously, the time was coming for others to know — as we now have it recorded in Scripture.

Full of astonishment, which has been a common response to encountering the work and words of Jesus, the people remark that “he has done all things well.”  When we hear these words, we are reminded of a repeated phrase in the first chapter of the Bible that each day God saw that his work was good.  Indeed this is as true of God in the work of creation as it is of God in the work of redemption.  It is good!


Discussion Questions

  1. Where does this story take place?  Has Jesus been here before (hint: Mark 5:20)?  How did Jesus’ previous visit into the region prepare the people for this visit?
  2. Describe what life may have been like for the man who was deaf and had a speech impediment.  How might people have treated him?
  3. How does the man come to Jesus?  What does this tell us about the people who brought him?
  4. Discuss the “method” Jesus used to heal this man.  Why does he remove him from the crowd?  Why do you think he put his fingers in his ears and touched his tongue?
  5. Jesus looks to heaven and sighs.  Why does Mark include this detail?  What do we learn about Jesus?
  6. Jesus charges all who are present to not tell anyone.  Why this command?  Since this healing is recorded in Scripture for us to read, obviously Jesus no longer intends for it to be kept a secret.  Why don’t we have the same command today?
  7. Read Isaiah 35:5-6.  What new information do we gain about who Jesus is from this Old Testament passage?
  8. The symptoms of being physically deaf are obvious.  What are the symptoms of being spiritually deaf?  What can we do to address our spiritual deafness?
  9. What is one thing you want to remember from this passage?



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