Blessed be the Lord,
the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.
Amen and Amen.
James Bowley in Introduction to Hebrew Bible points out that the word we translate as holiness also has the meaning of separateness in both Hebrew and English. He then adds that we don't have a usable verb form that holds both meanings in English although the word sanctify is close.
Not being perfect, the people were unable to refrain from actions that would separate themselves from the life the Lord intended for them to lead. The Day of Atonement provides a way of performing rituals that would make it possible for the priests and the people to come close to the Lord.
Chapter 17 outlines the procedures necessary for slaughtering animals. Killing any living creature--spilling blood--was considered a serious act and required expiation.
The book of Leviticus is set in the time of the exodus from Egypt but edited after the Israelites had gone through exile centuries later. Chapter 18 names sexual relations that should not be practiced and characterizes them as the kinds of things practiced by worshippers of the wrong god.
Try to imagine this--You go to an area where people are different from you. They have different backgrounds and different beliefs. Moreover, there's a history of antagonism between your people and theirs, and they have a reputation of doing bad things.
Keep imagining--You go there anyway, and you get an enthusiastic response. So enthusiastic that you go into a house to avoid the crowds. There you are confronted by someone you weren't looking for, someone that you didn't want to meet.
She's the kind of person you wouldn't want to be seen with, and she comes from those people that your people don't much like. And when you try to get her to just leave you alone, she instead convinces you that you really ought to help her.
Mark is telling us about something that happened to Jesus back then. Could anything like this happen to the Body of Christ today? Today, I am reading this passage metaphorically.
He couldn't hear a word that they said. How can a person like that be converted? How could he respond to the center of Israel's life, the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:1-9) that begins "Hear, O Israel"?
He couldn't speak well. How could he keep the instruction to "Keep these words...Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away..."?
This gentile living in a gentile world, not asking for help himself, not professing any faith in the ability of Jesus to help is suddenly able to hear--and to respond.
Mark is telling this story to people who would have known Isaiah's prophecy for the exiles of his time, "The ears of the deaf shall be unstopped....and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy." (excerpted from Isaiah 35:5-6).
We can read Mark's gospel as affirming that the exile is over, that Jews can return to a place that has been promised, and that Gentiles can join them.
(I was helped in this by reading Allen & Williamson's commentary on this passage in their Preaching the Gospels.)
Despite what they had seen Jesus do already, his disciples still didn't seem to trust that he could do even more. When they were surrounded by a big crowd of hungry people, they thought there was no way that anybody could do anything about it. We shouldn't be too critical of them, though, since we moderns haven't grasped a way to see how the hungry people in our communities can be fed.
Prayer for Today: Use this prayer based on Psalm 41 written by Terri C Pilarski who is part of RevGalBlogPals.