Week 8: READ: Mark 7:24-37
There is an abrupt scene change as Jesus set course to leave Galilee and head to the gentile region of Phoenicia. This appears to be a solitary trip for Jesus and there is no indication that his disciples are anywhere to be seen. Why did Jesus up and leave Galilee and go to the ancient city of Tyre when there is only one story recorded about this trip? There are many questions that simply go unanswered. Perhaps this was the only story passed on orally but Jesus likely did other work in Tyre. At the very least, Matthew 15:21-28 also included this story in his gospel.
Tyre is located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea northwest of Galilee. It is a little over twenty-five miles from Capernaum. Based on other stories in Mark, the reason he ducks into a home is likely that a crowd has already gathered around him. Despite his desire to not be noticed, his fame, even in this gentile region, is too great. A gentile woman comes to Jesus and prostrates herself before him. It is a humble position to lie face down on the ground. Jairus took this same position when he met Jesus and begged for him to come and heal his daughter (Mark 5:22-23). Lying prostrate is the position of the intercessor, calling out to God on behalf of another person.
There is urgency for this woman on behalf of her possessed daughter. Urgency is a key to change both for individuals as well as organizations. It is a motivating factor and empowers change for people who by nature resist the unknown. Another word that would describe this is desperation. Any parent that has had to fight for the sake of their child’s health knows what it means to do whatever it takes for the sake of their child. This was the situation in Tyre. From her prone position, I could imagine her reaching over and grabbing Jesus’ ankle and not letting go until he responded to her.
Jesus did respond and said that he came for the children (of Israel) first. You cannot take their food and throw it to the dogs (v. 27). There are not many non-religious leaders who debate Jesus and even fewer who win the argument. “Even dogs deserve to be fed,” she said. Jesus tells her to go home because her daughter is now free of her demon (v. 29).
We can learn something about prayer from this story. Jesus teaches that the most important thing is what flows out of our heart should be our prayer. When we have something pressing to pray for, grab a hold of the urgency of the matter and persist in prayer.
There is a geographical anomaly that happens as Jesus departs for home. He goes north about twenty-five miles to Sidon where there is no record of ministry in that city. From there he heads southeast to the Decapolis, the region of the ten cities. This is Jesus return trip to the Decapolis. This was the site of the exorcism of the man with a legion of demons (Mark 5:1-20).
When Jesus arrives in the Decapolis he is welcomed by the people who bring a deaf and mute man to him to heal. Now the Decapolis is a large geographical region of the Roman Empire (See Appendix 3). The northern most of the ten cities is Damascus in Syria which is about 75-80 miles from Philadelphia (modern day Amman, the capital of Jordan), the southernmost city in the Decapolis. From east to west, the width may be about 40-50 miles. It is fairly rural with lots of farmland and pastureland. Neither in Mark 5 nor Mark 7:31-37 is the exact location mentioned where Jesus ministered.
When Jesus left the Decapolis the first time, the people of the city who came to him after the 2000 pigs had drowned in the Sea, begged him to leave (5:17). In the story in Mark 7, they now beg Jesus to heal this man. What changed? Is it possible that the witness of the man who Jesus freed from his barrel-full of demons could have changed their minds in time? Remember that Jesus ignored his request to join his followers and go with them. Instead, Jesus told him to go home and tell everyone all that he had done for him (5:19). If so, consider what just one witness can do to impact not only a community but a region of the country? The power of one! Now after this healing, the power of two as well as all who wanted this man healed.
Jesus takes this man aside to a private place where there is a healing climate, just this man and Jesus. Next, Jesus communicates with the man in the only way he can and that is with touch. This is a very therapeutic model of healing. Jesus jabs his fingers into the deaf man’s ears. Then he spits and applies his saliva to the man’s tongue. Jesus’ saliva would be imbued with his divine power. In ancient times, saliva was commonly used for a variety of healings.
Then Jesus prayed. He looked up to heaven. He signed. In antiquity, the sigh sometimes signified the drawing in of spiritual power (ibid. p. 371). Breathe in the life-giving power of God. Breathe out any worry or distraction. This gives lots of oxygen to the brain so the focus for prayer can be sharpened. This can be a good reminder to take time and breathe and not rush our intercessory prayers for a person. The wisdom of being in private removed any anxiety that other people could bring to the prayer session. This man only had the eyes of Jesus on him! He could be more relaxed and thereby receptive.
Finally, Jesus says in Aramaic a command word for “be open.” It’s a firm word in the vocative voice. This is not a suggestion or hope but an expectation being called into being. Ears be open to hear. Tongue, be loosed to speak. Immediately…(v. 35). When the people saw the man could hear and speak, the word about Jesus began a movement in the Decapolis.
I love Dave. I wish you could meet him but he lives far away. He is a combination of polar opposites. He is loud but yet listens well. He is bold but knows when to wait. He is very sincere but can break out laughing and fill a room with his roar on a dime. One thing for sure is that Dave is a man of God.
I met David at a different time in my life. We found each other as two people working for the Lord and on a course to learn more about prayer. The faith tribes we came from were not in any way similar. I came out of a pastor-led Lutheran church where prayer was written or scripted so we could read our responses. No one wanted to be put on the spot or embarrassed and pre-set prayers made us comfortable.
David may have had some Roman Catholic roots but the tradition he had claimed more recently was Pentecostal. I didn’t know what to expect from him exactly as we explored our interest in learning more about prayer but I was curious what that might look like. I had gotten to be friends with him first so I was pretty confident that no matter what, I was going to be ok.
We agreed to get together over the lunch hour and pray at his church (just in case he got loud or did something weird in my book. It felt safer). The building his mission church rented was kitty-corner to the church building our mission church rented. This was convenient. At that first prayer time I was shocked to discover that he brought profound written prayers out of church history for us to mediate on. While I was bringing some spontaneous prayers for our city in the weeks ahead, he felt drawn to silence and mediation. There was more than once that I fell asleep in the silence of our prayer time.
In time, somewhere in the recesses of my heart, a still small voice began to whisper a word, a phrase or a thought. Sometimes these were prayers for our city. Sometimes they were unrelated. This prayer room in this rented church building became for me a prayer womb. By that I mean, new ideas that gave me energy were being birthed in my heart. This year together in prayer launched me into a new direction for ministry. It involved leaving what I loved and moving to something brand new. David was a confirming force for me that what was happening was not just me, but God.
Jody and I went on a get-away during this past Lent. While sitting at the ocean I got an instant message on Facebook. It was David. Some eighteen years later, miles apart, we have had a couple of great conversations. Life and ministry has changed for both of us. Yet we share a common bond born out of the year spent together in God’s presence in the prayer room in his rented church building. I learned more from David, I am sure, than he learned from me. It fills my heart with joy to be reconnected with him in some way and to recall the amazing ways God works to draw us into the presence of the Lord.
- What did you think about as you read over the two healing stories?
- Which story and why was it more interesting to you?
- Who has been a mentor to you in prayer? What have you learned from them?
- What is your most comfortable way to pray? What do you still want to learn more about in prayer?