And poof, Jesus travels back from Tyre by way of Sidon, in Mark 7:31-37.
Which makes no sense. See this map:
As you can see, if Jesus were near Tyre and he wanted to get back to Galilee, he would travel that minor road east, down, and around. To travel through Sidon would give him no pathway to return to Galilee. Especially if was going to the south shore near the Decapolis.
Moving on, people near that area brought a deaf man to Jesus. A man who had difficulty speaking, as deaf people still do today, because they have nothing with which to compare their sounds. Does that make him mute? I would argue no, that this story is mislabeled. It’s a deaf man, that’s it. His difficulty speaking is related to his deafness.
Jesus, the man who heals without ritual, now seems to go through quite the ritual to heal this man. He sticks his fingers in his ears and swaps saliva with the man. Now, back then, it was a common thought that saliva was associated with healing. As we now know, this is true, saliva is a natural clotting agent which is why our instinct is to lick wounds. In addition to the touching, he uses an incantation, “be opened”.
Is it possible that one again Jesus is flouting tradition by being more than intimate with this injured man who would have been considered unclean? Once again declaring that which was traditionally unclean as nonsense, because uncleanliness comes from within?
Once again, Jesus futilely informs people to be quiet who never do. What’s interesting is that he tells these people not to mention that he made the deaf hear and the “mute” speak, but that’s exactly what he tells John earlier in the story. He proclaims that he has done these things as evidence to John that Jesus is the Messiah. It appears, then, that Jesus doesn’t really want people to be quiet about it, or perhaps he is using reverse psychology? I would imagine that a man who could heal the blind and open mouths could also keep them closed if he wished to.
Perhaps Jesus’ sudden location shifts are meant more to represent the places that he had visited and so became popular? Such as, these are stories of things that occurred in these two gentile areas, not necessarily in succession, which is why Jesus became known there? Maybe, even, the events of these stories occurred, but the locations were changed to give the people of these areas a reason to feel connected to Jesus’ ministry? This was written some 70 years after the fact, I imagine that these areas next to Israel would want some connection. Jesus performing these miracles in the Gentile and distant lands seems like the most remarkable thing about the tales, for he has already healed people all over Galilee.
In the end, I think my wife and I have come up with two really good explanations. She reminded me of something I’ve said before, which is that Jesus talked to the Jews in a manner which they would understand. Does it not make sense that Jesus was talking to this deaf man in a way that the deaf man would understand? Would the deaf man have even known he was going to be healed if Jesus hadn’t performed these more physical actions? It seems like Jesus was talking to the deaf man in a way the deaf man would understand.
Similarly with the Syrophoenician woman. If Jesus had simply been kind to her immediately, would she have been unsettled, concerned, or even skeptical? Did Jesus speak to her in the manner she expected to be spoken in so that she would feel most comfortable with having received healing?
The second point is that these stories seem to line up very well with the beginning of chapter 7. Jesus first speaks of tradition, and how it can become corrupt. The story of the Syrophoenician woman involves Jesus breaking tradition to heal this non-Jewish woman. Jesus second speaks of uncleanliness being from within and not from without. He then heals a deaf man in an uncomfortable and unclean way, further making his point.
I honestly think that both of these points are dead on. The first speaks to the nature of Jesus. The second to the reason Mark put these four stories together, to begin with.
Grace and Peace to you all.