Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

100. The Deaf and the Blind (Mark 7:31-37; 8:22-26; Matt. 15:29-31)*

Their northern tour took Jesus and the twelve through the hinterland of Tyre and Zidon, and then in a circuit to the eastern side of the sea of Galilee. The RSV quite unwarrantably reads as though all this transpired soon after the healing of the daughter of the Canaanitish woman, but the text gives no time indication at all.

He was back in Decapolis (Mk7:31), the Gentile country of the Gadarenes, where, some months earlier, he had been warned off (Mk5:17).

There, in the hills, Jesus stayed for a while. Matthew's word ''sat'" is almost certainly a Hebraism for "dwelt" (e.g. Mt 4:16). Perhaps the unusual phrasing is intended to recall how "the glory of the lord sat upon mount Sinai" (Ex. 24:16). Or is it an echo of Moses' exhortation: "Ye have sat long enough in this mountain (Sinai). Turn you . . . and go to the mount of the Amorites (and the other Gentile peoples)" (Dt. 1:6,7)?

In this locality Jesus continued for some days, compassionately working many miracles on all kinds of afflicted people-lame, blind, dumb, maimed, "and many others" (different from these, so the text implies).

If the maimed people were restored, it surely means that those who had suffered amputation or were congenitally malformed now had limbs completely restored. (In the light of this, consider Mk.9:43). And even lame people struggled doggedly up that mountain slope, confident that soon they would be running down it.

Mark goes on to illustrate this activity with one detailed example-the healing of the man who was deaf. All of those sufferers are movingly described in one of Isaiah's Messianic prophecies: "Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees . . . Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing; for in the (Gentile) wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert" (35:3-6).

The reaction of the people to these wonders is summed up in a phrase: "They glorified the God of Israel." Here is clearly implied that this blessed multitude was mostly Gentile.

The feeding of the 4,000 (Gentiles) took place at this time. Although Jesus had emphatically insisted that his mission was to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel", there was no restraining his compassion of the suffering and ignorance amoung the Gentiles also.

Unusual healing method

The example now cited by Mark may have been typical of the many afflicted people Jesus healed, but the manner of healing was by no means typical. This man, brought to Jesus by friends who could make their appeal heard on his behalf, was deaf and "had an impediment in his speech" (Is.35:6, just quoted, is the only other occurrence of this word in the Bible). The fact that he had some power of speech seems to imply that he had not always been deaf.

In this instance, instead of healing with a touch or a word, as was his custom, Jesus led the man away from the multitude to a lonely spot, accompanied only by the twelve There he vigorously thrust his finger into the man's ear This, without any further gesticulation, would show the man just what was intended Then, strangely, Jesus spat on the ground and, opening the man's mouth, he touched his tongue, and looking up to heaven he uttered an audible groan (Mk.8:12; Jn.11:41,42). Then came the word of power: "Ephphatha - Be opened". This was spoken, of course, with reference to his hearing. The cure of his speech impediment would ensue as a result: "He spoke plain" (s.w. Dt.5:28; note v.27). And forthwith the cure happened — the man began to chatter away happily, rejoicing to find that his hearing was fully restored also. Jesus' word of command was the exact equivalent of Isaiah's: "the ears of the deaf unstopped."

By this time the twelve were well used to the extraordinary works of healing done by their Leader, but this day they must surely have been much astonished, or at the very least highly curious, regarding the strange procedure which accompanied it. That is precisely what Jesus intended.

The Blind healed by stages

A short while later, a similar procedure was followed in the healing of a blind man. Those who brought this pitiful case to Jesus were confident that it needed only the Master's touch, and sight would be restored. Instead, to save him wandering in the wrong direction, Jesus took him firmly by the hand and, again followed by the disciples, he led him out of the village until they were away from the undesired attentions of spectators.

Then he set about restoring the man's sight; a procedure marvellously reminiscent of the earlier healing. First, he spat on the man's eyes and smeared the spittle with his finger. Next, he laid his hand on him —whether on his head or his shoulders is uncertain. Then he asked him if he had any sight. So Jesus knew that this cure would be gradual. He intended it to be so. The man peered around, and replied, somewhat oddly: "I see the men (the apostles), for I see them like trees; they are walking." His sight was returning but so far only partially. Then Jesus put his finger on the man's eyes once again, and (continues Mark's record with extra ordinary and quite untranslatable emphasis) "he saw properly and was restored and saw everything well and clear even at a distance."

On this occasion also, as on the former, Jesus forbade publicity: "Neither go into the village, nor tell it to any in the village" (cp.7:36). The miracle was entirely for the man's own benefit and for the disciples. Repeatedly Jesus laid this commandment on healed men and on disciples, but they were incapable of holding their peace, with the result that soon everyone knew about it. Their commentary: "He hath done all things well", appropriated the language of the creation story (Gen. 1:31 LXX). In due time these men would come to see that their Lord was enacting in symbol the fashioning of a New Creation.

One commentator educes another valuable lesson: "If they whom our Lord forbad to preach him could not keep silence, what should the zeal be of those whom he has sent forth with a strict command to preach?"

Symbolic of the twelve

It has already been suggested (Study 94) that Jesus intended the twelve to see these marvellously similar miracles as acted parables of their own restoration to true spiritual hearing and discernment. There is pointed support for such a reading of the miracles in the context of the second one especially it is preceded (Mk.8:16-21) by an almost exasperated expostulation with the twelve: "Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not?.. How is it that ye do not understand?" And ills followed (8:27-30) by a parallel between the healing of the blind man and the context of Peter's Caesarea Philippi confession, for in that episode also the Lord first led his disciples away from Bethsaida, then he probed their insigli! concerning himself and found it woefully deficient, then — thanks to Peter - they sow clearly, and he ended by commanding them that they should tell no man.

It is not inappropriate, also, to note the relevance of the divine indignation against reluctant Moses: "Who hath made man's mouth? or maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord? (Ex.4:11). He can repair these apostolic deficiencies also —and ultimately He did.

The details of the records indicate that in each case Jesus was restoring powers which had been enjoyed earlier in life. His groaning and prayer expressed openly his own intense longing for the apostles to come to better insight' and a more staunch loyalty to himself (cp Jn.11:41,42).

In every place in the Bible, spitting is associated with contempt or reprobation (Num.12:14; Dt.25:9; Job.30:10: ls.50:6; and the half dozen instances in the gospels associated with the ill-treatment of Jesus at his trial and crucifixion). So, in the symbolism here, along with an eager longing that the disciples should come to a more wholesome attitude regarding himself, there was also a pointed disapproval of the very limited grasp of truth regarding him which they had evinced thus far.

Or was Jesus symbolically appealing to the twelve to see more clearly the truth about himself and so prepare themselves to share the rejection he was already experiencing? "Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his Servant, that walketh in darkness and hath no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God . . . The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back ... I hid not my face from shame and spitting" (Is.50:10,5,6; cp Mk.8:31).

The thrusting of his fingers into the man's ears may have been intended also as an enactment of Ps.40:6: "mine ears hast thou opened (digged-with reference to Ex.21:6).'" These words, a prophecy of Messiah, must be true of his disciples also.

There are other common features in these miracles. Jesus led the men away from the multitude, and there in loneliness, the touch and influence of Jesus brought restoration, but only gradually.

Here, then, is summed up the purpose of that long trek to Tyre and Sidon, and again towards Caesarea Philippi. Away from the excitement of the crowd, there was hope that the influence of close contact with their Master would, by degrees, bring a more balanced outlook. "I see men as trees, walking." Perhaps this detail is preserved in the gospel to suggest the powerful words of Ps. 1: "Like a tree planted by the rivers of water . . . the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly."

The repeated insistence that the miracles be not talked about everywhere is a further indication of their essentially private meaning. The healing of the blind man especially has, in the Greek text, a remarkable echo of Psalm 19:8 LXX "the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes"; the same key word comes also in Psalm 18:12. describing the vivid brightness of the Glory ot the Lord. It was, indeed, by a combination of these transforming influences-the educative power of Holy Scripture and the manifestation of heavenly Glory in himself—that Jesus sought to save his sheep.

How apt was that other prophecy of Isaiah?: "I will bring the blind by a way that they know not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and will not forsake them . . . Hear, ye deaf; and look ye blind, that ye may see. Who is blind, but my servant? or deaf, as my messenger that I sent. . . seeing many things, but thou observest not; opening the ears, but he heareth not" (42:16-20)

Notes: Mark 7:31-37

Impediment. This unusual Greek word derives from one meaning 'to suffer pain, to be distressed' (with the effort and frustration of the stammer).
String. RV: bond; s.w. Lk.l3:16. Both bound by what Satan?
Charged them. The tense means he repeatedly charged them, and- so it also implies (middle voice) - for H-« (Christ's) own sake. He wanted no more public fuss.

Mark 8:22-26

Spit on his eyes. The same unusual word for 'eyes' comes also in Pr.7:2 LXX.
The four different words for 'see' are worth special attention.
In his excitement he kept on saying . . .(Gk. impf.)

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