23rd Sunday Ordinary Time – Jesus’ Odd Journey – Geography is Symbolic
Imagine a slide show or a set of photos on Instagram of Jesus trip (Mark 5-7). Jesus waterskis across the Sea of Galilee, encounters the wild man in the tombs, heals him, wild man goes off to the Decapolis (the Ten Cities) to proclaim the good Jesus did for him in freeing him from “Legion,” goes way up to Tyre and further north toward Sidon, then returns to the Sea of Galilee in the Decapolis. What a formidable set of pictures and selfies that would be!
Or, as Mark put it Sunday:
Again Jesus left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee,
into the district of the Decapolis. And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him. [Mark 7:31ff]
There’s something else at work in this story. First, the context; tomorrow the network of Greek words chosen by Mark.
Chapter 5: Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee to the place of the Gerasenes and healed the wild man (who proclaimed him to the Decapolis); then crossed back over to Galilee and healed the woman with a hemorrhage and the little girl of Jarirus.
Chapter 6: Back in his hometown he was dissed by neighbors – “a prophet is not without honor except in his hometown…” – he sent the 12 out to preach and drive out demons; Jesus heard the story of the beheading of John the Baptist; he fed 5000; Jesus sent the disciples across the Sea to Bethsaida; he walked on the water; got into the boat; “their hearts were hardened (!)” – they landed at Gennesaret and he healed many.
Chapter 7: Big uproar with Pharisees who wash everything – “Only what comes out of the person defiles…” and explained all this privately to his disciples. He went toward Tyre and, after a back & forth with this feisty mother, he healed her daughter. Then, Jesus made this odd journey back to the Decapolis to encounter this deaf person.
Geography is symbolic: After Jesus healed the wild man in Gentile territory (!), he went back to home base in Galilee to heal. Yet found his neighbors dissed him. And he dissed the Pharisees. Conflict. After the Baptist’s death and feeding the 5000, Jesus and disciples ended up in Bethsaida on the other side of the Sea. Hmmm.
The Point:Tyre and Sidon were Phoenecian strongholds from of old. Gentiles. Outcasts. Jesus went there to heal and to reap the fruits of the one (wild man) who had proclaimed his name in the Decapolis. Jesus shared out the same healing among sinners and outcasts where he didn’t belong. He crossed the boundaries between insiders and outsiders, between those who count themselves as “the norm” and those they counted as “the abnormal.”
We’ll see more tomorrow about the deeper significance of his healing of the deaf one. Stay tuned!