A Healing Puzzlement

Reading about the travels and earthly works of Jesus in the gospel of Mark has me puzzling over several details. Why did the Lord Jesus tell people not to spread the word about his healing miracles? Why did he heal comparatively few people when there were so many more who desired healing? Why did he compel his disciples to get into a boat to cross the Lake of Galilee when he knew perfectly well that a dangerous storm was brewing? What happened to the demons he cast out of people?

There are good answers to these questions, and some of them may be found in commentaries. But it is noteworthy that sometime the scholars skip right over the questions I would ask.

One such question occurred to me recently as I read Mark 7:33.  Jesus was asked to attend to the needs of a man who was deaf and speech-impaired. The verse says that Jesus took him aside. I get that. He was showing this disabled man that he had the Lord’s undivided attention. He cared about the individual.

Then the verse says he put his fingers into the man’s ears. Well, that makes sense too. The Lord was using physical touch to convey his awareness of where the problem lay and that he was doing something about it.

He sighed deeply. I don’t think this implies he had any difficulty healing the man. It shows that he was moved with compassion and empathy for the man’s predicament.

Then Jesus looked up toward heaven. This must have been a signal to the man that he was invoking the power of God. God had created this man and God knew about his problem. Jesus’ upward look was an indication to the patient that his help was from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Jesus spoke the healing word: “Ephphatha!” It was a command in the Aramaic language to the man’s senses to “to be opened!” Verse 34 says, “At this, the man’s ears were opened and his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.” 

But there is another detail, one that I do not fully understand. (Apparently the scholars do not either because many of them prefer to leave it unmentioned.) We read that Jesus did a strange thing. “He spit and touched the man’s tongue.” Spit? What did this have to do with healing?

Any suggestion I might give is speculative. Did the Lord want to impart something from his human DNA? This physical manifestation certainly undermines the Gnostic denial of our Lord’s full humanity.

Was he demonstrating that he, and he alone, was the one doing the healing? This healing came only through him, by the power of God. He, the Lord Jesus, transferred spittle from his own tongue to the tongue of the speechless man. Did this physical gesture signify that a physical healing was about to happen?

Another possibility has been suggested. Spittle was considered in ancient times to have healing properties. Now the Lord was certainly not imitating the practices of Egyptian and Babylonian sorcerers! But could it be that he was so fully entering the man’s cultural context that he was willing to use a means that was not unexpected in that day and time, because it had meaning for the patient himself?

This is not the only time Jesus used spit in a healing. In Mark 8:23 he put his spittle on the eyes of a blind man as he healed him. In John 9:6 he made a paste with mud and spittle and applied it as a poultice to the eyes of a blind man. What seems strange and unfamiliar to us, may have been familiar to the people of Jesus’ day. I remain puzzled.

Of these facts I am more certain. Jesus really did heal the man. The circumstances of the healing reveal his compassion, his power, his willingness, and his humility. The story also reveals to us one more convincing evidence that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah sent from God. The prophet Isaiah wrote about the coming of Messiah:

“Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy” (Isaiah 35:5-6).

Pastor Randy Faulkner




“I Am Thirsty”

You understand thirst. You have felt thirsty. Have you ever experienced a burning thirst, a fearful life-or-death thirst, a dangerous thirst? Long distance hikers know the dangers of dehydration and the importance of locating water sources. They carry filtration systems for purifying water from streams, ponds or springs along the trail.

The fifth word of Christ from the cross came near the end when he said, “I am thirsty.” He knew that everything was about to be accomplished (John 19:28). He had been suffering the judgment of God for sin. This was to make possible our deliverance from the penalty for our sins. He identified with humanity in another way we all understand: “I am thirsty.”

Jesus had been hanging on the cross since 9:00 in the morning. It was nearing 3 pm. His physical sufferings were unspeakable. They were compounded by a burning thirst. He gave voice to a physical need. He had this is common with all humanity as before when he experienced temptation, fatigue, sorrow, hunger and righteous anger. In thirst, common to all people, Jesus understood how it felt to be human.

The “I” in this statement opens another window on the person of the Savior. It is a reminder that this dying, thirsting man on the cross was also God in his very nature. Repeatedly in John’s gospel, our Lord Jesus identified himself as the “I AM,” who had boldly declared, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:10). John purposefully selected seven statements from the discourses of Jesus to affirm his divine authority: I am the Bread of Life, I am the Light of the World, I am the Gate, I am the Good Shepherd, I am the Resurrection and the Life, I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, I am the True Vine.

Then in John 8:58 he said, “Before Abraham was born, I am!” Not “I was,” but “I am” the eternal One, the self-existent One (Exodus 3:14; John 1:1). Jesus, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!” ( Philippians 2:6-8).

Think of it! The one who “was with God in the beginning” and through whom “all things were made” (John 1:2-3) inhabited and was dependent upon the creation he himself had brought into existence. The one who created the springs, rivers and aquifers to slake the thirst of living creatures; the one who sent the seasonal rains to water thirsty crops, to provide abundant harvests; the one who covered three-fourths of the surface of this planet with water to dissipate the heat of the sun and to make the earth habitable — this mighty creator humbled himself to die on a cross and before he died he said, “I am thirsty.”

The historic teaching of the Christian gospel is that Jesus is both human and divine, God and man in one person. Because he was man, he was able to bear our sins. Because he was God, his sacrifice was perfect. Because of his perfect sacrifice he is able to bring believers to Paradise. Let us say to Jesus, as Thomas did, with reverence and gratitude, “My Lord and my God!”( John 20:28).

Pastor Randy Faulkner