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Tony's Reflection 66
I was brought up a good, teetotal Methodist boy. Alcohol tasted strange, so who would want to drink that stuff, anyway?
I can still remember the first few times, in the late 70s, I got my first taste of the sights, sounds and smells of Union Street, late on a Saturday night. Gangs of sailors in uniforms from across the world. Boisterous young men in leather jackets, jostling and pushing. Girls in their short skirts or hotpants, tottering precariously on high heels. The smell of stale cigarette smoke and alcohol. The sick on the pavement. The pulsating noise of disco music, mixed with high-spirited laughter, loud swearing and sometimes threats.
I felt like a fish out of water. Nightlife, the red light and even blue light (as the police cars and ambulances hurtled by) area was a strange place, to me. Intimidating, even.
We see Jesus, today, in a place respectable Jews of his day simply didn’t go. If they did, it would have been as alien for them as Union Street was to me. It wasn’t a case of the country preacher being lost in the city nightlife. It was all far more disturbing than that, to Jewish sensibilities.
Today’s episode (
) takes place in Decapolis. This was pagan, non-Jewish territory. A Jew would never go there unless he had to. Non-Jews were unclean. Everything about them was dirty and disgusting. Their food. Their clothes. The people themselves. Even the pavements they walked on. If a Jew even had to use their walkways, as he left the town, he would take off his sandals and shake off every last trace of non-Jewish dust. Far be it from him to bring even microscopic contamination back into the holy land.
Mark though, has just shown us how Jesus detonated high explosive under Jewish beliefs about clean and unclean. Food doesn’t defile you. Contact with people, even foreigners, doesn’t make you unclean. Even someone from Syrian/Greek background, even a woman, can find favour with Jesus.
No one is beyond the pale, for Jesus. Everyone is included, can receive a miracle and can be welcomed into God’s kingdom. Even people in a place like Decapolis.
You see Decapolis wasn’t just full of “unclean” non-Jews. It was a thriving centre of one of the most disgusting practices non-Jews could ever do. Decapolis was a centre for Emperor worship. It was where those vile Romans added to their dirtiness by giving their sordid Emperor the honour of worship, something which belonged to God alone. The place was steeped in blasphemy as well as uncleanness.
And yet Jesus goes there.
The clamour among the locals is unbelievable as Jesus comes to town. They have heard about him, of course. They all know he is a healer. But none of them ever thought this Jewish holy man would ever set foot in their town.
They can’t believe he has come. They aren’t terribly interested in his teaching, though. Who wants all that extreme, Jewish God stuff, anyway? They want something they can see.
Everyone knew old Joses. He was stone deaf. He couldn’t talk, either. Or if he did, no one could figure out what on earth he was going on about. He simply moaned and jabbered incomprehensible gibberish. Surely Jesus could fix him?
As soon as they see Jesus arrive, the crowd pounce. The atmosphere is intoxicating, a mixture of excitement and desperation. Someone has gone off to old Joses’ hovel to fetch him out. The rest of the crowd are badgering Jesus. They are as keen for the sensation of a miracle in their very midst as they are to see poor old Joses healed.
They still can’t quite believe this Jewish holy man is there with them. He might be just passing through. Would he really stop off and do another miracle… for them, non-Jews?
Several have fallen down on their knees, begging Jesus just to touch Joses.
“Okay, where’s Joses then? Bring him here…” says Jesus with a smile. The warmth in his eyes and the affection in his voice is something they have never felt from a Jew before.
Joses is brought forward. He is frightened by the waving hands and the clamour of excitement. He can see it all, but can’t hear or understand anything. He is pushed forward by the crowd and comes before Jesus quivering with fear.
Jesus fixes his eyes on Joses. His gaze brings acceptance and reassurance deep into the old man’s soul. He has stopped shaking. But he is still apprehensive. What is going on?
Jesus moves slowly and deliberately, so as not to add to Joses’ fears. He puts his fingers tenderly over Joses’ ears. A gentle heat flows through Joses. There is a soft crackle and bubble in those ears. The first sounds he has heard in years.
Jesus spits into his own hand and gently touches Joses’ tongue. Everyone knows what that means. They have heard legends about emperors using their spit to heal people. Could Jesus really be as good as the emperors they worship?
The invisible knots which had tied Joses tongue are cut in a split second. He shouts aloud. The words explode in a joyful cascade from his lips. Clear and cohesive, he is understood at last. The crowd is wild with excitement. Joses can’t contain himself, nobody can.
The 12, who are with Jesus, have seen this all before, but still join in the celebration. For them, distant memories are stirring, coming alive. Their mothers had recited the Scriptures to them, ever since they could remember. One passage comes echoing down the years:
“The ears of the deaf will be unstopped, the mute tongue will shout for joy.”
That was a promise of what Messiah would do. They knew that. It was for Jews, though. None of them had ever thought he would do it for emperor-worshipping non-Jews.
Jesus’ miracle-working power breaks through all that binds and oppresses. But that power wasn’t just for the religiously respectable. It still isn’t, even today.