The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity — Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost — is September 5, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 7:24-37

7:24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice,

7:25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet.

7:26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.

7:27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

7:28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

7:29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go–the demon has left your daughter.”

7:30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

7:31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.

7:32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him.

7:33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue.

7:34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”

7:35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.

7:36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.

7:37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

The Lectionary continues with Mark 7, where we left off last week.

John MacArthur provides context for today’s readings. Jesus is now far away from Capernaum and is in Gentile territory. MacArthur also gives us an insight into the audience for Mark’s Gospel:

Now remember that Mark is in Rome when he writes this Gospel. Mark is writing from Rome, and he’s writing an account of the life and death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ for Gentile readers, primarily. Obviously it extended to everyone, but his primary goal is to write for the Gentile world. It is then important to Mark that he communicates in his Gospel that salvation extends to the whole world. You wouldn’t get that message if you just talked to the Jews of New Testament times. They viewed Gentiles as outcasts

But that was not the attitude of our Lord and nor was that what the Old Testament promised. For example, in the book of Isaiah it comes very clear to us that there is only one God for the whole world – only one God for the entire world. Isaiah 42 says, “Thus says God the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and its offspring, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it.” This is God, the only God …

In Isaiah 45 verse 5, “I am the LORD; there is no other. Besides Me there is no God.” There is only one God – only one God, no other gods, all the idols of the world are not gods …

Salvation has always intended to be to the world. If you ask the question, “Then why in John 4 did Jesus say, ‘Salvation is of the Jews?’” Why in Matthew 10 verses 5 and 6 did Jesus say, “I have not come but for the lost sheep of the house of Israel?” The answer is that Israel was never intended to be the end of God’s saving purpose but the means to the end. The reason our Lord came to Israel was to bring salvation to Israel so that Israel could be the means to Gentile salvation. And while the nation rejected, there were enough who believed – the Twelve, the 120, the 500 in Galilee – who then took the gospel on the heels of the Great Commission to the ends of the earth. We’re a part of the fruit of that. Aren’t we? We’re the Gentiles who make up the church, along with those Jews who have come to embrace their Messiah. We’re the fruit of that early generation of believers who were the means. And the first evangelists were Jewish. The early church was Jewish, three thousand converted on the Day of Pentecost, thousands more as the weeks rolled on, who began to extend the gospel and fulfill the Great Commission

We get a glimpse of that here in the story in Mark 7 verses 24 to 30. Here Jesus leaves Israel and He goes on a very long foray deep into Gentile territory. He’s into the last year of His ministry. The gospel ministry in Galilee has been going on for over a year. There are not a lot of believers. Most have rejected, the Pharisees and Sadducees hate Him. They’re looking to kill Him. There will be a national rejection and a cry for His death soon to come. But there will be enough Jews in the kingdom to carry the message to the world.

Jesus — and the Twelve — went to the region of Tyre, where He entered a house and wanted to go in without anyone noticing, yet He could not escape being seen (verse 24).

MacArthur tells us about Tyre:

The region of Tyre would be in the country known as Phoenicia. Phoenicia has two famous cities, Tyre and Sidon. This account of Mark is paralleled in Matthew 15 verses 21 to 28, and Matthew says, “Tyre and Sidon.” They’re two coastal cities, twenty miles apart – famous, famous cities, famous in history, famous in the Old Testament, as I told you, quoted in Psalm 87, famous because of the conquering of Alexander the Great. They are the main cities in Gentile country, Phoenicia, north and west of Galilee, pressing against the Mediterranean coast.

This was not a day trip:

He went to Tyre and He was there a while. We don’t know how long. And then He went 20 miles and Tyre was 50 miles away from Capernaum, Galilee – Sea of Galilee area. Then He went 20 miles north and He went through Sidon, the sister city. We don’t know how long He was there. And then He followed the highway east back across the mountains of Lebanon, a very circuitous route, even going further north than Sidon, and going through the mountains and then down to the south, east of the Sea of Galilee and then back toward the Sea of Galilee in the middle of Decapolis which didn’t begin until the southern part of the Sea of Galilee, was a Gentile area called Decapolis, a Greek word for ten cities. This is a very long trip. He would have walked at least – if He just took a direct route – 120 to 150 miles. It took weeks, maybe months.

There are no great teaching events in Tyre. There are no great teaching events in Sidon. In all the weeks that He was trekking through the challenging trails of the mountains of Lebanon, there is no indication that anything happened. He had with Him His Twelve Apostles. The assumption is, the rejection of Galilee is fixed, now it’s time to turn to these men and train them. He’s already reached the point where He only explains the parables to them, not the crowds. Now it’s time to intensify their training.

A woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit — a demon — heard He was there, so she sought Him and bowed down at his feet (verse 25).

She humbled herself before Him, as we all should.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

Note, Those that would obtain mercy from Christ, must throw themselves at his feet; must refer themselves to him, humble themselves before him, and give up themselves to be ruled by him. Christ never put any from him, that fell at his feet

She was a Syrophonecian, a Gentile, and begged Him to cast the demon out of her daughter (verse 26).

In using an analogy of feeding children first, then dogs, Jesus replied that He came to save the children of Israel first (verse 27).

Henry said that He replied in such a way in order to test her faith:

Where Christ knows the faith of poor supplicants to be strong, he sometimes delights to try it, and put it to the stretch.

Yet, He knew that He would be going into Gentile areas after His own rejected Him:

Let the children first be filled, intimates that there was mercy in reserve for the Gentiles, and not far off; for the Jews began already to be surfeited with the gospel of Christ, and some of them had desired him to depart out of their coasts. The children begin to play with their meat, and their leavings, their loathings, would be a feast for the Gentiles. The apostles went by this rule, Let the children first be filled, let the Jews have the first offer; and if their full souls loathe this honeycomb, Lo, we turn to the Gentiles!

The woman pointed out that even dogs ate the crumbs that fell from the dining table (verse 28).

She meant that she did not require a full loaf, just one crumb — one healing — from Him would suffice for her.

Henry offers this analysis, positing that she might have heard of the miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, which had happened not long before:

This she speaks, not as undervaluing the mercy, or making light of it in itself, but magnifying the abundance or miraculous cures with which she heard the Jews were feasted, in comparison with which a single cure was but as a crumb. Gentiles do not come in crowds, as the Jews do; I come alone. Perhaps she had heard of Christ’s feeding five thousand lately at once, after which, even when they had gathered up the fragments, there could not but be some crumbs left for the dogs.

MacArthur thinks that the woman might even had seen Jesus in Galilee. This would be feasible, as there was a lot of travel and mixing between Jew and Gentile, although not in a deep sense of friendship and marriage. They knew of each other’s religions and customs:

She’s certainly very familiar with Jesus. She not only knows what He’s capable of doing, she even knows who He is. My guess is that she had been there in Galilee, probably for a long enough time to really be sure about this person Jesus. She had been there, in those crowds.

You remember that it tells us in the New Testament that if the miracles that were done in Capernaum had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented. Well this is one of the ladies that would have repented because she did repent. Not because of what she saw in Tyre and Sidon, but because of what she must have seen in Capernaum. So Jesus goes into Gentile territory. This is a preview of what is to come when the gospel goes to the ends of the earth. This is a personal affirmation from Jesus that salvation belongs outside Israel.

This woman understood her place — as a dog — in the eyes of the Jews:

Matthew says she was a Canaanite. Bad enough to be a Gentile, worse to be a Canaanite, because the Canaanites were cursed by God and they were supposed to be exterminated. There shouldn’t be any Canaanites left. So she’s vestiges of a cursed race and a Syrophoenician. Humm, what does that mean?

Well Phoenicia was the name of the country, but under a Roman general, Ptolemy, who ruled there for a while, he had annexed Phoenicia to Syria. So Syria and Phoenicia became one, and she was a Syrophoenician. Her influences were all to be rejected by the Jews. First of all, she was a woman, that was bad enough. And then she was a Canaanite, the general category of Gentile, of course. But being a Syrophoenician identified her, of course, with the Romans. She was therefore as a Canaanite corrupted by Baal worship and as somebody in a Romans-influenced culture, corrupted doubly by the gods of the Romans. And in the city of Tyre, of course, that’s where Jezebel lived, and that’s where Baal worship originated. But they also had the Roman gods and there’s some evidence that they worshiped a god named Astarte. Astarte was the goddess of beauty and the moon goddess, and Astarte is a Greek name for Ashtoreth. And you will remember that Baal and Ashtoreth were worshiped by Israel of old. So they made a transition from Baal and Ashtoreth to the Astarte version, so they were just engulfed in idolatry. The Jews had been cleansed of idolatry when they came back from the Babylonian captivity.

Jesus acknowledged the woman’s faith by healing her daughter (verse 29).

The woman returned home to find her little girl lying on the bed, the demon gone (verse 30).

MacArthur says that the girl was probably somewhere between the ages of seven and ten and that the demon caused her to act in immoral ways:

This is a little girl. This is a young girl, an unmarried girl under the age of twelve, thirteen, when people got married. Who knows? Eight, nine, ten, seven – who knows? A demon-possessed child. Horrific experience for a mother. I think much more common in the world today than we understand or that demons want us to understand …

The unclean aspect would probably mean that the demon was manifesting itself in some kind of immoral conduct in a child. Horrible, horrible situation, and her heart is grieved and broken, and she has nowhere to turn. Do you think she had gone through whatever ceremonies her idol gods required? Probably. Do you think she had tried to appeal to whatever deities she had been taught existed? Sure. Whatever she had done in the past, she had lost all confidence in them. She is now doing what 1 Thessalonians 1:9 says the Thessalonians did, “They turned from idols to the living God.” Whenever you talk about idols and the living God, it’s because there’s a contrast between a living God and dead idols. Read Isaiah 44 and watch how foolish it is to make a god out of a piece of wood.

Or today’s trendy crystals, for that matter …

Our Lord’s ministry took Him and the Twelve from the region of Tyre to that of Sidon, the other principal city, which was towards the Sea of Galilee in the region of the Decapolis — ‘ten cities’ (verse 31).

MacArthur describes the journey:

He’s now moving directly north. Sidon is twenty miles north of Tyre, straight up the coast. There is no record that He taught there. There’s no record that He healed anybody there. There’s no record that He had any public presence there. It’s possible, because in John 21:25 it says that if all the things He did were written down, the books of the world couldn’t contain them. We can assume that He had a divine purpose in going from Tyre to Sidon. We just don’t have a record of what that was. But again, John says more is left out of the record even with four Gospels than is included. This again is important for Him because after going to Tyre, it says that He moves from there, according to verse 31, through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee within the region of Decapolis.

Now Decapolis is on the east of the Sea of Galilee and the south end. It’s called Decapolis because it is a region with ten cities, Hellenized, Greek-influenced cities, pagan cities, heathen cities, non-Jewish cities, but it is from the lower part of the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee and south from there. So He’s all the way to the northwest and He ends up all the way in the southeast of Galilee. And He takes that complete circuitous trip going way further north than one would need to go to get to the area of Decapolis for the purpose of extending the time in order that He might teach the Twelve personally. He visits on His journey outlying areas of Galilee, Bethsaida, Caesarea Philippi, way, way up on the north border between Israel and Lebanon, twenty-five miles north of the lake.

There the people brought before Him a man who had a speech impediment and asked Him to heal him by laying a hand on him (verse 32).

MacArthur explains the importance of this request and says that this story appears in Mark’s Gospel alone:

Believe me, they had never seen anything like this from any or all of their deities combined. They recognize that the God of Israel is a God of a completely different nature than theirs. Now it is in that context that we come to Mark 7, because it is in that context that this miracle takes place. This is one of those who was thrown at His feet by friends and family, a deaf mute. And again, this is one of three accounts in Mark’s Gospel that appear nowhere else in the other three Gospels.

In both Gentile and Jewish cultures, life was very difficult for the deaf because they could not make themselves understood. Blind people could at least speak but the deaf were often considered insane because of their indistinct verbal communication:

Even in Israel – and this is a sad reality – but even in Israel, deaf mutes were categorized with the insane because the rabbis said, we have no way of knowing what they understand. They were not granted normal human rights. And in the Gentile world, it was worse. Who knows what life was like for this man or for all the others. The Jews would also heap on the person the fact that if they had that kind of malady they were under the curse of God and the judgment of God, and it would be viewed by the Pharisees and Sadducees as unclean because they were under divine judgment. We don’t know what perspective all the Gentiles had, depending on what deities they worshiped, but these would be people who in any culture were outcasts, treated with disdain. Because it was virtually impossible to communicate with them, it was assumed that they had these limiting capacities mentally.

Jesus took the man away from the crowd and did four things He normally did not do when performing a healing miracle.

He put His fingers into the man’s ears, He spat, He touched his tongue (verse 33) and, looking up to heaven, He sighed on him, saying, ‘Ephphatha’ — ‘Be opened’ (verse 34).

Immediately, the man could hear, his tongue functioned normally and he could speak clearly (verse 35).

Henry gives us a lengthy analysis of these actions, all meant to convey divine healing power:

2. He used more significant actions, in the doing of this cure, than usual. (1.) He put his fingers into his ears, as if he would syringe them, and fetch out that which stopped them up. (2.) He spit upon his own finger, and then touched his tongue, as if he would moisten his mouth, and so loosen that with which his tongue was tied; these were no causes that could in the least contribute to his cure, but only signs of the exerting of that power which Christ had in himself to cure him, for the encouraging of his faith, and theirs that brought him. The application was all from himself, it was his own fingers that he put into his ears, and his own spittle that he put upon his tongue; for he alone heals.

3. He looked up to heaven, to give his Father the praise of what he did; for he sought his praise, and did his will, and, as Mediator, acted in dependence on him, and with an eye to him. Thus he signified that it was by a divine power, a power he had as the Lord from heaven, and brought with him thence, that he did this; for the hearing ear and the seeing eye the Lord has made, and can remake even both of them. He also hereby directed his patient who could see, though he could not hear, to look up to heaven for relief. Moses with his stammering tongue is directed to look that way (Exodus 4:11); Who hath made man’s mouth? Or who maketh the dumb or deaf, or the seeing or the blind? Have not I the Lord?

4. He sighed; not as if he found any difficulty in working this miracle, or obtaining power to do it from his father; but thus he expressed his pity for the miseries of human life, and his sympathy with the afflicted in their afflictions, as one that was himself touched with the feeling of their infirmities. And as to this man, he sighed, not because he was loth to do him this kindness, or did it with reluctancy; but because of the many temptations which he would be exposed to, and the sins he would be in danger of, the tongue-sins, after the restoring of his speech to him, which before he was free from. He had better be tongue-tied still, unless he have grace to keep his mouth as with a bridle,Psalms 39:1.

5. He said, Ephphatha; that is, Be opened. This was nothing that looked like spell or charm, such as they used, who had familiar spirits, who peeped and muttered,Isaiah 8:19. Christ speaks as one having authority, and power went along with the word. Be opened, served both parts of the cure; “Let the ears be opened, let the lips be opened, let him hear and speak freely, and let the restraint be taken off;” and the effect was answerable (Mark 7:35; Mark 7:35); Straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and all was well: and happy he who, as soon as he had his hearing and speech, had the blessed Jesus so near him to converse with.

MacArthur looks at the command ‘Ephphatha’ and the fact that the man could speak when he never before heard any language:

Verse 34, “He said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is ‘be opened.’” That’s probably an Aramaic statement – verb. Some think it might be a Hebrew, but the weight of evidence is on Aramaic, which would have been the language Jesus spoke every day. Ephphatha – be opened.” The response was instant, absolutely instant. With a word out of His mouth, one verb, ephphatha, the power came. Verse 35 says, “His ears were opened and the impediment” – the bond, the desmos, it’s the word for chains that chain a prisoner, the chain of his tongue – “was broken and he began speaking plainly.” In an instant he could hear perfectly and he could speak plainly.

Do you understand the extent of this? To hear is one thing. To be able to know that what you’re hearing is language when you’ve never heard language is another miracle. Right? There’s no speech therapy here. He doesn’t have to go to language class to learn Aramaic or Greek. He has full facility in the language that he’s never heard. To hear it and understand it and speak it plainly. The word plainly in the Greek is orthōs from which we get orthopedics. It means to straighten things out. Correctly would be the right translation, to put something back to the correct alignment. He heard and spoke perfectly. No therapy, no learning curve, nobody had to teach him how to form the letters, form the words, nobody had to teach him what the words were. He received an instant facility in the language to hear it and speak it implanted in his brain. It’s really stunning. No recovery period, but then there never is in Jesus’ miracles. There’s no progression here. He couldn’t hear; now he hears. He couldn’t speak, and now he speaks. And he hears perfectly and he speaks perfectly. This is staggering. The man unable to speak is now enabled to speak.

And then we come to a third point. He is unable not to speak. Now that he can speak, he can’t hold it back.

Jesus told the crowd not to tell anyone of the miracle, but they could not contain themselves, even when He repeatedly ordered them to again (verse 36).

MacArthur says that this is because Jesus did not want to be known solely as a miracle worker but as our Redeemer. His authorship of our redemption — crucifixion and resurrection — had not yet been accomplished but was to come. At this point, His ministry could be at risk of spinning out of control, so He had to rein the crowd in:

Don’t spread the message that I’m a healer and a miracle worker. That’s not the whole story. It would be like you having one part of the gospel story that Jesus was born of a virgin, came into the world, did miracles and healed people, and preached the kingdom of God, and that’s the story. That’s not the story, because it doesn’t include – what? – the cross, and it doesn’t include the resurrection. That’s the full story. So He says this again.

This was not the case earlier in Gerasa, where the Gadarene swine miracle took place. The man whom Jesus rid of demons was the first missionary to Decapolis. Jesus wanted him to tell the people who He was:

… back in chapter 5 when Jesus was in Gadara, Gerasa which is also in Gentile territory over in the same area, and He healed the man who had the legion of demons, He said to him, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you and how He had mercy on you. And the man went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him and everyone was amazed.” He tells that man to tell everybody. He tells this man to tell nobody. What’s the difference here? How do we explain that?

We explain that because the maniac was the first missionary to Decapolis. There had never been anybody to talk about Jesus there before. And it needed to be established who He was and what He could do and His power. But now it’s reached epic proportions, massive crowds.

The crowd’s astonishment knew no bounds and they marvelled at His perfection in healing the deaf and the mute (verse 37).

Henry explains their sense of astonishment:

… they that told it, and they that heard it, were beyond measure astonished, hyperperissos–more than above measure; they were exceedingly affected with it, and this was said by every body, it was the common verdict, He hath done all things well (Mark 7:37; Mark 7:37); whereas there were those that hated and persecuted him as an evil-doer, they are ready to witness for him, not only that he has done no evil, but that he has done a great deal of good, and has done it well, modestly and humbly, and very devoutly, and all gratis, without money and without price, which added much to the lustre of his good works. He maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak; and that is well, it is well for them, it is well for their relations, to whom they had been a burthen; and therefore they are inexcusable who speak ill of him.

MacArthur says that the only time ‘hyperperissos’ is used is in the New Testament:

The word for utterly astonished, one word in Greek, huperperissōs – huperperissōs. It’s used only here in the New Testament. It is a compound word, very, very strong. It means above all measure, over the top, superabundantly amazed and astonished. They had their minds blown in the vernacular. They’re just completely amazed. They can’t contain it. They cannot keep this in. So they spread it everywhere.

I hope there will be good sermons on this reading on Sunday. Henry and MacArthur’s respective commentaries have made me see these two miracles in a new light.