One of the foundational missions verses in the Old Testament is Genesis 12:1–3. God tells Abraham that all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through him. In the first century, the Jews, for the most part, neglected to be missional. In this passage, Jesus not only provides food for a poor woman. By His example and teaching, He communicates important missional concepts.
In verses 14–23, Jesus had taught that what defiles a person is not the external things but the inward attitudes that lead to defiling actions. First century Jews looked upon Samaritans as unclean half-breeds (racial mixture of Jews and Gentiles) and avoided contact with them. After teaching that uncleanness and defilement are matters of the heart, Jesus departed to the region of Tyre, a Gentile coastal city, presumably to escape the crowds.
A Gentile Syrophoenician woman approaches Jesus with a request to cast an unclean spirit from her daughter. Some Jews called Gentiles dogs, which were unclean animals. Jesus’ comment about throwing children’s bread to dogs reflects this unspiritual mindset, albeit not the attitude of Jesus. Jesus taught that all foods are clean (v. 19). The mother is persistent. Even dogs receive crumbs. In response, Jesus exorcizes the demon even though He is miles from the house where the daughter is.
Jesus travels to the region of Decapolis (meaning “10 cities”). People bring to Jesus a deaf Gentile man who is unable to communicate. These individuals beg Jesus to lay His hand upon him. Perhaps for two reasons, Jesus takes the man to a private place rather than perform the healing in view of the crowd. First, Jesus’ healing of the Deaf was a ministry predicted of the Messiah in the Old Testament. “The eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the Deaf unstopped” (Isa. 35:5). Mark highlights throughout his Gospel that Jesus did not publicly proclaim Himself as Messiah because people would not understand the nature of His messiahship.
The means Jesus uses to help this man are unique in the Gospels. Jesus put His fingers in the man’s ears, spits and touches his tongue, then prays, “Be opened!” This is a command. While many times we overlook individuals with disabilities, Jesus devotes time to minister to people we label as “disabled.” Pray that God would open our ears to listen to biblical guidelines about ministering to dejected, rejected and ignored individuals.
Jesus’ action loosens the tongue of the man, and he speaks clearly. Then Jesus commands onlookers to tell no one. This command raises questions for contemporary believers. Why would Jesus command the onlookers not to tell anyone of the amazing miracle?
The probable reason is that the general population would focus on the miraculous healing and thus ignore other aspects of Jesus’ teaching and ministry.
The people disobeyed Jesus’ order to tell no one. We disobey Jesus’ order to go and tell. Jesus is the only person in history who did everything well.
This lesson was written by Mark Rathel, professor at the Baptist College of Florida in Graceville, Fla., and originally published by The Baptist Paper. This study is based on the Explore the Bible curriculum from Lifeway Christian Resources.