Saturday, September 22, 2018

Sunday 30 September, Sunday 7 October, Sunday 14 October 2018 - 26th, 27th, 28th Ordinary Sundays

I need to vary my usual practice of publishing notes in full for each Sunday by simply linking to past notes (three years back in 2015).

For Sunday 30 September - 26th Ordinary Sunday - 2018 go here.

For Sunday 7 October - 27th Ordinary Sunday - 2018 go here.

For Sunday 14 October - 28th Ordinary Sunday - 2018 go here.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Sunday 23rd September 2018 - 25th Ordinary Sunday

Theme(s): Jesus predicts his death and resurrection / How then shall we live? / Church conflicts: how they can be dealt with and why they never need arise / True wisdom / Asking and receiving / The character of the kingdom / The kingdom of God and its requirements of our character

Sentence: 'Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.' (Mark 9:37)


God who sees everything,
may we understand true wisdom
so that our lives are both pure and peaceful
and your church is marked by harmony
through the power of the one Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Readings (related):

Jeremiah 11:18-20
Psalm 54
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37


Jeremiah 11:18-20

In the gospel reading Jesus predicts his suffering and death (and resurrection). Here Jeremiah envisages his own fate at the hands of evil men. But he cannot see a resurrection ('his name will no longer be remembered') though he has faith that God will bring retribution upon those who destroy him.

Incidentally, as a detail which is not terrifically important, note that in the Greek version of Jeremiah, 'lamb' is arnion, the word which John the Seer, writing the Book of Revelation uses for 'the Lamb' who appears so often in his visions. By contrast John the Evangelist, writing the Gospel, uses the word amnos for Lamb in John 1:29, 36 when John the Baptist cries out for people to Behold the Lamb of God.

Psalm 54

This psalm, a cry from David's heart when pursued by Saul, fits well with Jesus' situation when he finds 'the ruthless seek my life' (3) but faces that, sure that 'God is my helper' (4). As we find these kinds of psalms linked to the gospel readings such as today's, which speak of the suffering and death of Jesus, we build a repertoire of psalms which cast light on the meaning of the dark days of Jesus' suffering and thus of the explosion of glory which the resurrection represents.

James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a

Spoiler Alert: you might be troubled by this passage if your life is not in order, outwardly and inwardly!

If earlier we have seen James 'have a go' at those whose faith claims are at variance with their works (2:14-26), here we find him having a go at those who claim to be wise and understanding yet do not show this in the way they live. Moreover, the way these works are done, 'with gentleness born of wisdom' is important, for that will demonstrate the state of one's heart. There is a false wisdom which is 'earthly, unspiritual, devilish' which is represented when our hearts are full of 'bitter envy and selfish ambition' (13-15).

Such envy and selfish ambition leads to 'disorder and wickedness of every kind' (16) - which might explain some divisions and dysfunctions in the church! The contrast, with obvious shades of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5) and the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5) present, is 'the wisdom of above' which is 'first pure, then peaceable ...' (17). Different ones among us might usefully reflect on relevant items on the list. To take one, 'willing to yield', how many conflicts inside and outside the church make sad progress (i.e. regress) when parties to the conflict are unwilling to give way to the other. The theme of peace is especially strong through 17-18 (x3). James is right to emphasise this sign that the church understands the implications and application of the gospel of peace.

Chapter 4:1-3 is then a different tack on the same subject of conflicts and quarrels. It seems unlikely that any of James' readers would have been murderers, so does he have in mind the metaphorical murder, when we hate someone, when we cut them dead in conversation and when we exclude them from our social circle?

These verses begin with a kind of 'amateur psychology' approach exploring where 'conflicts and disputes' come from with the answer 'Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? (1) Actually, this is more than amateur psychology because - we know this from our own experience - conflicts and disputes often are about something else going on in our lives, a missing something which desire or crave. For example, we crave more attention and love so we conflict with the one in our group who is the centre of attention. (Looking ahead to the gospel reading and the dispute there among the disciples, Mark 9:33), there was a craving for status!)

But the end of verse 2 takes us from psychology to theology, 'You do not have, because you do not ask.' James doesn't quite spell out what he is saying here. It sounds as though a fuller version would be, 'You end up quarrelling because of things you do not have and you are missing the point that you don't have these things because you haven't asked God for them,'

Incidentally, with those last words in verse 2 we are certainly taken to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:7-11) and thus verse 3 becomes a commentary on Jesus' own words about asking and receiving. It is an age old Christian question or two that we respond to Jesus with 'Does that mean I can ask for anything at all and expect to get it?" and 'Why didn't I get what I asked Jesus for?' Here James  answers that we do not receive what we ask for 'because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures'. In other words - noting verses 4-6 which are not part of the lectionary reading - when you ask according to your will and not according to God's will, you do not receive.

But we should go back to the end of verse 2. 'You do not have, because you do not ask.' Are there times - I know there are in my life - when you do not have what God wants you to have because you have done everything about your lack except ask God for supply!

Finally (7-8a), kind of summing up the whole situation of these verses, the lives we live, for good or for ill, according to our will or God's will, James draws a series of contrasts &: submit to God/resist the devil; draw near to God/he will draw near to you.

There is an old bumper sticker which proclaimed an important truth, If you are not close to God, guess who moved? (!!)

Mark 9:30-37

Famously Mark has Jesus predicting three times that he will be put to death yet rise again to life. Our passage begins with the second of the predictions as Jesus again speaks to his disciples (30-32). Again we also find, in relation to this conversation, that Jesus is being secretive (cf. discussion in previous posts about 'the Messianic Secret' in Mark's Gospel). In this case Jesus 'did not want anyone to know' that they were passing through Galilee (30) because he wanted to speak to his disciples, 'for he was teaching ... "The Son of Man is to be betrayed ..."' (31). This suggests that Mark is very summarily giving us what Jesus taught, as a walk through Galilee would have take a day or three.

Despite this prolonged teaching session the disciples are, well, thick. 'But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.' (32) There is a bit to ponder here. Jesus was a good teacher, the disciples were following him and generally eager to learn from him. What was the blockage in this case?

Psychologically we can understand that the disciples were unable to comprehend that their beloved leader was going to die. They were, to use an old phrase, 'in denial.' Theologically we can understand that the disciples were unable to comprehend that their Messiah was going to suffer which, in turn, leads us to think that they knew all the stories of David's prowess as a warrior and nothing of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah.

But why were they 'afraid to ask him' to clear matters up?

The next verses may give us a clue (as well as telling us of the hopeless depth of incomprehension they were in). In the next scene the disciples are arguing amongst themselves. Jesus calls them out on it and their silence speaks volumes: they knew they were caught arguing something that was displeasing to Jesus.

It all seems pathetic to us as readers! They were arguing over 'who was the greatest', that is, who was the greatest among them, who would be at the right hand of Jesus after his coronation. At once we see the depth of the disciples' commitment to some kind of political interpretation of Jesus' ministry. These healings and feedings were the prelude to taking up power and authority over Israel and booting the Romans out as well. Who wouldn't want to be top dog in the court of King Jesus! Perhaps their fear of asking Jesus to help them properly understand (32) was the fear of a grand fantasy being destroyed!

Jesus takes them to task on this. But, looking ahead, it is to little avail as there is yet another attempt to come to assert top dog status, Mark 10:35-45.

But it is to our avail what Jesus says in verses 35-37. In the simplest and clearest terms he sets out the values of the kingdom, the real kingdom he is king of, the one wishing to be at his right hand should seek to be 'last of all and servant of all' (35). In that kingdom it is the last, the least and the lost - represented by the little child he takes in his arms - who is to be welcomed and given pride of place (36-37a).

When, as ourselves members of this particular kingdom with these 'upside-down' values, we welcome the last, the least and the lost, we welcome Jesus himself. When we welcome Jesus we welcome God who sent him (37b).

In this last verse we find discipleship (what we are asked to do) meeting christology (who is Jesus?) because we find in the chain of welcome, child/Jesus/God are subtle equation between Jesus and God!

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Sunday 16th September 2018 - 24th Ordinary Sunday

Theme(s): Suffering and Vindication / Cost of Discipleship / Taming the Tongue

Sentence: For what will it profit to gain the whole world and forfeit your life? (Mark 8:36)


Holy and eternal God,'
Give us such trust in your sure purpose,
That we measure our lives
Not by what we have done or failed to do,
But by our faithfulness to you. Amen.

Readings (related):

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 116:1-9
James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38


Isaiah 50:4-9a

Just as Jesus, in the gospel reading, looks ahead to his suffering at the hands of those who will kill him, so the prophet looks to a time of humiliation at the hands of his persecutors. But later, the first Christian writers, reporting to us the suffering of Jesus, will be influenced in their accounts by recollection of these words.

Isaiah 50:4-11 constitutes the so-called 'third servant song', songs with messianic themes which directly or indirectly shape both Jesus' own conception of his purpose and identity and the Christian understanding of Jesus as the Christ/Messiah, a suffering Messiah rather than a militant Messiah.

Psalm 116:1-9

We read this psalm in conjunction with Jesus' predictions - in our gospel reading - of his death (verses 1-7) and resurrection (verses 8-9).

What prayers of ours have been answered so that we want to exclaim 'I love the Lord ... because he inclined his ear to me'? (1-2)

James 3:1-12

We can all get this passage because we all know the damage the tongue causes. Perhaps our caustic tongue has caused damage (I know mine has). Perhaps we have been hurt by the acidic words of another's tongue. It needn't be our enemy, it might be our closest friend or colleague who hurts us with an ill-chosen word, or perhaps even with a well-chosen word but delivered thoughtlessly and without tact. It never does any Christian or any Christian congregation any harm to be reminded to control the tongue, to speak well of and to others and to never forget the power of the tongue, for evil and for good.

In a social media world, we could update "tongue" to include written words on social media which are received by us as a spoken word. Unfortunately, even in the church, words "spoken" via social media wound us, and such words can be abusive and constitute bullying behaviour.

What is of interest as we reflect on the passage are a few matters we might rush by.

3:1 challenges all of us who claim to be or who are contemplating being teachers. But we should not let the raw fact that we teachers will be judged 'with greater stricture.' That just makes our task more challenging.

3:2 To what does 'For all of us make many mistakes' refer? Is it a new topic? Does it connect back to teachers (i.e. saying to them, don't worry when you do make a mistake)?

3:2-5 involves a fascinating segue from mistakes to bridles to rudders to rudders being 'very small' to another very small thing, the tongue.

3:11-12 raises but does not quite see through an important point. Can anything be done about 'the spring' in our lives? The general answer of the New Testament is 'Yes' and the fuller answer is the indwelling of the Spirit of life makes for a well of life-giving water to flow out of us. But James leaves us to work all that out. Does he not know of the power of the Spirit or does he know of it but wants us to do the work of recalling that power and realising that we need a fresh in-filling of the Spirit?

Mark 8:27-38

We jump past the Feeding of the Four Thousand (8:1-10) which is sort of a repeat of the Feeding of the Five Thousand but crucially occurs in Gentile territory, so Mark telling this story is saying something about the inclusion of Gentiles in the kingdom of God.

We also jump past another dialogue with the Pharisees and an associated dialogue between Jesus and the disciples about the Pharisees and Herod, related to the two feedings (8:11-21).

Finally, we are also skipping past the healing of a blind man in 8:22-26. That healing is significant: it is paired with a second such healing in 10:46-52 and the two physical healings of blindness may be contrasted with the spiritual blindness of the disciples in the intervening passages, starting with today's passage, in which Peter is blind to the deepest truth about who Jesus is. At best, like a stage in the healing of the blind man in the preceding verses, Peter is partially sighted.

So, our passage for this Sunday:

Verses 27-33 are intensely Christological: "Who do people say that I am?" Jesus asks (27).

Verses 34-38 are among the deepest verses we can ever read on discipleship (not just self-denying discipleship but dying to self discipleship).

Yet together these verses tell us much about Jesus (who he is in relation to God but also who he is in relation to us, as the One who asks of us to give up our very lives) and much about discipleship (flawed, partially sighted followers asked to give everything, including life itself). The phrase 'on the way' (27) is a clue that this story is about discipleship as much as about Christology.

The initial answers the disciples give to the question Jesus poses are similar to what we have already read in 6:14-16. The disciples readily report what is the range of popular estimations of who Jesus is.
Pointedly Jesus asks 'But who do you say that I am?' Only Peter steps up to the theological plate and bats out the answer, 'You are the Messiah' (29).

Verse 30 is then both familiar and intriguing. Familiar because we have already seen the motif of the Messianic Secret in Mark's Gospel (e.g. last week at 7:36). Intriguing because you might think that 'on the way' to Jerusalem it might be now time to tell the world the truth about Jesus. Why not?

The answer to that question comes in the next few verses. 'Messiah' was a term redolent with nostalgia for the days of great King David and fervency for a new David-like king in warrior mode who would sweep Herod and the Romans before him. The disciples are not to tell people about Jesus being the Messiah because they will take that to mean one thing and one thing only. Jesus the Messiah is of a different calibre and in verses 31-33 he sets out to calibrate the disciples thinking to his way of self-understanding. He will be the suffering Messiah not the warring Messiah. His victory will be over the enemy of death and not over merely human opponents.

But Jesus does not make all this easy for us, nor (as we shall soon see) for his disciples. 'Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering ...' (31) Say who? Why does Jesus discontinue reference to 'Messiah' and replace it with 'Son of Man'? (Already introduced in Mark 2:10).

In part we do not know why, because we argue among ourselves as to what this enigmatic phrase (is it a title, as our capital letters in English signify?) means. But in another part we can reasonably propose that the phrase/title invokes a famous vision, Daniel 7: 13, especially when we notice the end of verse 38.

In this vision in Daniel, an enigmatic figure 'one like a son of man' is presented to the Most High in the context both of the suffering of Israel (under a succession of imperial overlords, see the first part of Daniel 7) and of hope of future victory. That enigmatic figure is enigmatic because we as readers are left wondering whether he is an angel or some other kind of high heavenly being or a representative figure corporately symbolising Israel. Or perhaps a bit of each?

So, we can propose, but others may debate the proposal, Jesus deftly begins his calibration of what 'Messiah' means by first equating the Messiah with the son of man figure in Daniel 7:13, and thus shifts focus away from a figure whose ability to raise a powerful army means a Davidic messiah is in views and towards a figure through whom God works to bring victory by another route.

By speaking specifically of the Son of Man 'suffering' it is likely that Jesus is also aligning 'Messiah' with the Suffering Servant figure who appears through various 'Servant Songs' in Isaiah, including the passage most readily interpreted in the light of the sufferings of Jesus through his trial, mocking and crucifixion, Isaiah 53. Also note the word 'must': what is going to happen to Jesus is going to be according to God's will.

Reading what Jesus says many years later and, of course, after we have received news of the resurrection, we may be somewhat sanguine about Jesus' prediction of his own future. But Peter did not have our advantage and he turns against Jesus (32). Jesus is not deterred. He 'rebukes' Peter in front of the other disciples and uses the strongest possible language to condemn someone who opposes God's plans: 'Satan' (33). This is a crisis or turning point in the narrative. Jesus is heading towards Jerusalem, according to God's plan and not according to human plans. The disciples are being brought in on the plan and they need to grasp it. This is no time for fudging the issues.

At the end of verse 33 we have a terrible scene. Jesus is near the culmination point of his ministry and his leading disciple has just opposed him and revealed at the same time that he 'knows nothing.' So Jesus rams home a key point about discipleship. Never let a crisis go to waste (so some say). The summary of what he says in 34-37 is this: I will suffer and you will suffer too; I will die and you need to be willing to die also.

The terms expressed in verse 35-36 are both stark and inspiring. What kind of life do we want? One that ends or one that continues? What kind of ultimate prize do we aspire to? Owning the world or possessing life eternal?

The final verse, 38, underlines the either/or options at stake, life or death. But the focus shifts slightly. It is one thing, say, to follow Jesus wholeheartedly and life-denyingly within the comfort of the Christian community. But what kind of disciples will we be in the public arena? When we follow a Messiah who suffers, and thus is a weak and pathetic figure in the eyes of the world, will we be a bold witness or an ashamed one?

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Sunday 9 September 2018 - 23rd Ordinary Sunday

Theme(s): Healing and deliverance / Who is Jesus? / Mission to the Gentiles / The kingdom of God / Equal love for all / No favourites!

Sentence: You do well if you really fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself." (James 2:8)


God, the strength of all who believe in you,
increase our faith and trust
in your Son Jesus Christ,
that in him we may live victoriously
through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Readings (related):

Isaiah 35:4-7a
Psalm 146
James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17
Mark 7:24-37


Isaiah 35:4-7a

This passage relates to th second healing in the gospel passage below, where further comments are made about Isaiah 35:1-10.

Psalm 146

We can connect this psalm with the concerns of the James reading (e.g. 3, 7-9). But we can also connect it with the healings in the Mark reading (e.g. 7b-9). Although neither kind of healing is explicitly referenced in these verses, both the demon-possessed daughter and the deaf-mute man were 'oppressed' by and 'prisoners' of their respective situations.

James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17

Don't read this passage out in any church which (a) rents its pews (b) ushers the better dressed parishioners to the front seats or (c) looks embarrassed when a homeless person turns up!!

James is very focused on good Christian behaviour, but is not restricted to matters deemed 'personal morality.' In several places, James is clearly concerned for the social morality of whole congregations. This passage is one of those places.

Congregations should not show favouritism to the rich nor prejudice against the poor (1-10). It is important to notice that James specifically frames this instruction in terms of 'our glorious Lord Jesus Christ' (1). He asks the question, 'do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?' The implication seems to be that if you do believe in Jesus you won't play favourites and that will be because you understand that Jesus treats each person the same since all are created equally in God's image and in the kingdom of God, all citizens are equal, because Jesus died for all in the same way and loved each in this action the same. Jesus did not die specially for the rich!

Further, verses 8-10: partiality runs against the 'royal law' of 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' Although he does not spell this out, if I love the rich more than the poor, then I am only loving one of those two groups 'as yourself' and that group is not the poor. Thus - noting verse 9 - partiality breaks this royal law and such partial Christians 'commit sin' and are 'transgressors.'

Verse 10 then spells out a point which is especially apt for the subject of verses 1-10, but has implications for other matters of obedience/disobedience (11-13). That point is that we are law-breakers because we break one law, not because we break a majority of them. We cannot keep all the other laws and get a 'Get our of jail' card on showing partiality. If we are partial then we have ruined our law keeping efforts.

With verses 14-17 we return to the question of partiality, but with a different focus. In verses 1-10 the focus was on whether the congregation treated the rich deferentially compared to the poor. In these verses the focus is on how the poor are treated full-stop. When confronted by the poor and their obvious needs for clothing and food, words are not enough. Action is required. We cannot be partial to words and favour them over deeds, for fine words never clothed or fed anyone.

But there is another issue being raised in these verses and that issue continues through the remainder of the chapter (which is not read next Sunday). That issue is the question of 'faith' and 'works'. Scholars seem largely agreed that in the background here is an early church debate in the light of what Paul the Apostle taught about faith and works. In this debate, as known to James, it seems that 'faith' (without works, at least in the sense of good deeds of kindness and mercy) has been exalted  and works deprecated. This is not surprising in a congregation prepared to favour the rich (who need no good deeds shown to them other than where the front seats in the church are).

It would take more space and time than I presently have to work out why a congregation might have drawn this conclusion from the writings of Paul, whether such a conclusion was justified, and, indeed, what Paul's understanding of 'faith' in relation to 'works' actually was. We could, in such a space and time allocation, also consider what various theologians have made of the situation, the most memorable of whom was Martin Luther who dismissed James on the basis that this passage seemed to contradict Luther's newly discovered doctrine of justification by faith in the Pauline epistles.

What we can say, briefly, is that James is absolutely correct to determine that faith is not faith if it is not evidenced by works. He is correct both on the basis that this is something Jesus himself taught in the gospels and on the basis that (whatever we make of 'faith' and 'works' in Paul's writings when he is explicitly discussing both themes) Paul himself always envisages, in the second part of his epistles, the new life of the justified believer in Christ expressing itself in deeds of love.

Mark 7:24-37

We are in a section of Mark's Gospel in which Jesus is ministering in Gentile/Greek dominated territory ('the region of Tyre', 24; 'the region of the Decapolis,' 31). Looking back to last week's reading, remembering that Mark translates some aspect of Jewish life for his (likely) Gentile readers, we therefore note that Mark is bringing stories of Jesus-meeting-Gentiles-and-changing-their-lives to his Gentile readers.

Today we have two healing miracles which we could summarise as 'Jesus heals Gentiles too!' But there is more to the stories than that, and some digging into the detail both yields exegetical rewards as well as raising challenging questions.

Verse 24 rehearses a familiar theme from the gospels, Jesus attempts to be anonymous, to escape the hustle and bustle of his ministry.. Those familiar with Middle Eastern life will not be surprised at the failure of these attempts: everything is noticed and reported around the community!

The woman introduced in verse 25 becomes, in verse 26, someone whom Mark goes out of his way to tell us about. He doubles up on her Gentility: 'a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin.' But that definitiveness about her status relative to the Jewish Jesus heightens the exegetical challenge in verse 27.

First, the ever loving and compassionate Jesus seems a somewhat off-handed Jesus, disinterested in helping her daughter.

Secondly,  what are we to make of Jesus describing the woman (and, by extension, all Gentiles) as 'dogs'? (Indeed, is there something chauvinist in this ascription being directed to a Gentile woman?)

Thirdly, the ever inclusive, globally focused missional Jesus seems focused on mission to Israel and no one else. What is going on?

One explanation is that Jesus is not disinterested in her plight and is not exclusive in his mission but is teasing her or challenging her to move beyond 'begging' (26) to demonstrating (mature?) faith in Jesus.

Further, in his teasing or challenging riposte in verse 27, Jesus is not, according to this explanation, deprecatingly describing her as a 'dog' but ironically picking up the everyday language of Jews in relation to Gentiles. That is, effectively Jesus is saying, "So, tell me, given the priority of my mission to Israel, to the Jews, why should I offer to one whom Jews put down with the term 'dog' a blessing reserved, at this time, for them and not ordinarily available to Gentiles?"

Another explanation is that Mark is presenting the church - perhaps unwittingly - with an unvarnished portrait of Jesus which does not fit with a number of christological conclusions we have reached about Jesus (that he loves everyone, that his mission was to the world, to both Israel and to the Gentile nations, that he was gracious and well-mannered to all people). The real or historical Jesus was a man of his context: he was a Jew and shared the Jewish view of Gentiles as second-class citizens (and may have been chauvinist), he was - as a self-conscious prophetic and rabbinic figure within Israel, exclusively focused on the problems of Israel.

Further, and shockingly for our christological assumption that Jesus the Son of God knows everything, on this unvarnished view of Jesus, the Syrophoenician woman taught Jesus something: Gentiles had worth too. They may be viewed as 'dogs' in relation to Israel as the 'children' of God, but dogs get to eat the same food of God.

I am not going to attempt to resolve these opposing views save to note that Jesus himself, according to verse 24, seems determined to head into Gentile territory. So he knowingly placed himself where he would encounter Gentiles. That observation may lean our assessment towards the first rather than the second explanation.

What is Mark doing in this story? Surely, by presenting this story, and in particular the exchange in verses 27 and 28, Mark is warning Jewish readers against viewing Gentiles as second class citizens of the world or kingdom of God. The kingdom of God - whatever Jesus was doing and thinking when the conversation took place - is now the kingdom of Jew and Gentile. All eat the same food at the table of God.

The deaf man with a speech impediment perhaps poses less challenges but raises some questions nevertheless. There is a parallel with the first healing story in this passage. Thus we notice that 'They' brought the man and 'they begged him to lay his hand on them' (32). We recall the woman came on behalf of her daughter, and she too 'begged' Jesus to help her daughter.

When we go on to read that Jesus 'took him aside in private, away from the crowd' (33), we wonder why he did that. We also wonder how Mark knows what Jesus said (34) because reporting the word 'Ephphatha' to us almost certainly means that someone heard Jesus speak in Aramaic and this word in particular was remembered, treasured and handed on from one story-teller to another.

That stories were told and re-told about this miraculous event logically flows from verse 36. The point in verse 36 is that Jesus wants to downplay his significance, almost certainly because he was concerned at that significance being misunderstood (i.e. that is misunderstood in terms of the politics of the day). But - typically for humanity - the more one tries to suppress speech, the more the gossip flows around a community.

The motif of (attempted) secrecy is called by scholars, The Messianic Secret.

Finally, in verse 37, continuing another theme in Mark's Gospel, the crowd around Jesus are 'astounded beyond measure' and praise Jesus. In this case, their saying 'he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak' is multi-layered in its significance.

Layer one: literally, the deaf and the mute hear and speak.

Layer two: prophecy is being fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus (see Isaiah 35:5) and thus visions such as Isaiah 35:1-10 which look ahead to a great and glorious day of restoration for Israel are coming into being in the reality of the kingdom of God which Jesus proclaims with words and inaugurates with deeds according to Mark's Gospel.*

Layer three: (this is a bit complicated, and reading Isaiah 6:9-10 with Isaiah 35:1-10 will assist). Already in Mark's Gospel we have encountered Jesus explaining parables and why he uses them in terms which invoke Isaiah 6:9-10 and the resistance of hearers of God's messengers to really hearing what God is saying through prophecies/parables. But the kingdom of God comes about because some people do receive the message and receiving it, they pass it on: their ears are not stopped and their tongues are not constrained. Thus this healing is a further sign of the coming of the kingdom.

(*For those interested in the proposals of Bishop Tom (N.T.) Wright, and, in this case, his proposal that the gospels are best understood in terms of Jesus bringing about the ending of Israel's exile, then the relationship between Isaiah 35:1-10 and this story is intriguing, because Isaiah 35:1-10 is about more than a general restoration for Israel, it is about the return from exile).