In Mark’s gospel, Jesus’ initial ministry in Galilee, starting with his miracles in Capernaum, brought excited crowds to him looking for healing for themselves or those with them. So great were the crowds that Jesus looked for rest for himself and his disciples. That’s probably why he went into gentile areas, like the Decapolis and the regions around Tyre and Sidon, where some Jews lived, but where he would be less known.
But they came to him there too, not only Jews but also gentiles, like the Syrophoenician woman who came to him around Tyre. In today’s gospel, the deaf man brought to him isn’t identified as either Jew or gentile. He’s just deaf and can’t speak. What’s significant about this miracle is the way Jesus heals him. “He took him off by himself away from the crowd.” (Mark 7,33)
The deaf man was not to be a public exhibit of Jesus’ power, a statistic to be added to list of the healed. Jesus takes him aside privately, he meets him personally, face to face– and is deeply touched– “groans”–at the deaf man’s plight. He touches the man, putting his finger in his ears and his spittle on his tongue. When the deaf man speaks, Jesus says to him and his friends not to tell anyone. One reason may be that Jesus doesn’t want to be typed simply as a healer. But they went and proclaimed it anyway.
What can we learn from the story? Is the healing of the deaf man a reminder to treat others personally, each with a face of their own and a human story that’s unique? That’s hard to do. It’s easier to deal with people as statistics, numbers, people next in line.
For Jesus people were not statistics, one of a crowd, next in line. That’s not God’s way.