When Jesus Spits: Decoding Weird Stuff

ephathaPerhaps this may turn out to be nothing more than a wild-goose chase.  You know, nothing more than an empty pursuit.

But twice now Mark’s Gospel has Jesus spitting, as he performs a miracle.  First, in the healing of a deaf and mute man (7:31-37) and, then, the healing of a blind man at Bethsaida (8:22-26), an account unique to Mark’s Gospel.

You see, I’ve been reading through Mark’s Gospel, one pericope after the other, seeing what’s there and how each fits Mark’s larger purpose.  Let’s just consider the first spitting incident (7:31-37).  To make sense of this pericope, I first considered geography; and then what came before and what follows.  Perhaps I needed to broaden my gaze.  At any rate, I decided to simply assert that it was something indigenous to the region of the Decapolis, where all this took place.

Moreover, Mark has Jesus putting his fingers in a man’s ears, spitting, and then touching the man’s tongue.  Why so graphic?  Why so hands-on? (pun not intended)  Why not simply speak, as he did for the paralytic in 2:12, whose deformity was evident to the eyes?  What’s the difference?

Pointing to Mark’s opening of his Gospel (1:1-11), N.T. Wright notes Mark’s high Christology from the get go.  This can be adduced, for example, in the citing of the passage from Isaiah 40, which is speaking of YHWH, and applying it to Jesus; and then the declaration of the voice from heaven at Jesus’ baptism, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”  According to Wright, by citing Isaiah 40, Mark’s Jesus is pointing to God in order to explain his own actions.

If, indeed, in Jesus Israel’s God has arrived at last, to rescue his people and launced the new creation, then this hands-on episode fits this larger story–quite well.

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