Benefice Faith Group

Faith Group Autumn 2016

The Benefice Faith Group meets fortnightly
Tuesday evenings from 7:30 – 9:00 pm, at St Laurence’s House West Woodhay.

We don’t expect to come up with answers – but we do enjoy asking the questions!


Session 1  

Who do you say that I Am? Mark 8:29
See handout

Question 3: What new title would you give to Jesus?
Suggestions from the group:

  • Perfect Friend
  • Guide
  • Redeemer
  • The Hospitable One
  • The Welcomer
  • Purifier, the One who Cleanses
  • Master
  • Word / Logos
  • The Questioner
  • The Answer
  • Forgiver
  • Love

Next Session     Tuesday 11/10/16 Please note change of date

Healing a Deaf-Mute                         Mark 7:31-37

What would you do if you were a deaf-mute (a term that we wouldn't use now, but which carried particular historical and legal connotations in Biblical times), living in the first century of the Christian era?


‘Who do you say that I am?’ Hand Out for Faith Group Meeting, 19/9/16 (pp to 04/10)

Listen to the first few bars of Beethoven’s 5th symphony played by a chamber orchestra: we all know what this music is, don’t we?  Why do we think that there are differences in the myriad recordings of this symphony?  Does each conductor and orchestral player have an interpretation of the work which the conductor tries to pull together to create a coherent interpretation of the work?  Listen to this:

Play the same transcribed for piano:

This is still the same music but now as transcribed for piano by Liszt, for his own intellectual pleasure and musical education, and also to take the symphony into the homes of music lovers for them to play and hear.

Finally, here is an even fuller blown orchestral version of the same symphony: different again isn’t it?

Here are a few names from the Bible that are used in reference to God and to Jesus, the Messiah:

You are the Christ,’ Mark 8: 29

Jesus, Joshua – the one who saves, his given name

Messiah – Hebrew equivalent of the Greek, the Christ

Son of Man – synonym for man but also used for persecuted prophet – used about Ezekiel, 87 times and also refers to a supra-human judge who, together with his people, will bring history to its end, inaugurating God’s final rule (Daniel and Enoch)

Son of God – Psalm 2, God’s elected king – Saul, David etc.

Son of David – expected political Saviour, re-establishing Kingdom of David

Lord – title used of God in the Old Testament, in Jesus’ time foremost title of Roman Emperors

The Just One – an Old Testament title for those who suffer but whom God will vindicate

Servant of God – a title from Isaiah 40 to 55, possibly the remnant of Israel during the exile or a prophet or Saviour whose coming would bring in the Messianic age

Saviour – title hidden in Jesus’ Hebrew name and Roman emperors’ self-designation as Saviours of the World.

The New Adam – Pauline title indicating the one who will re-establish true humanity

Jewish and Gentile Christians used different titles for Jesus, dependent upon their previous faiths and philosophies.


  1. Which of these titles expresses how you understand Jesus?
  2. Which would be the most meaningful to non-Christian people today?
  3. What new title would you give to Jesus?

Mark 8: 29

Matthew 16: 15 – 16

Luke 9: 20

John 6: 67 – 69

And he asked them:

He said to them:

And he said to them:

Jesus said to the 12:

‘But who do you say that I am?’

‘But who do you say that I am?’

‘But who do you say that I am?’

‘Will you also go away?’

Peter answered him: ‘You are the Christ.’


Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.’

And Peter answered, ‘The Christ of God.’

Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life: and we have believed and have come to know
that you are
the Holy One of God.’


Faith Group 11/10/2016                     The Healing of a Deaf Person without Speech              Mark 7: 31 – 37

The evening began with music: Te Third Lamentation of Jeremiah for Good Friday, set by Lassus representing the condition of a person who was deaf and without speech, untouchable to his contemporaries.

We read these accounts of the two “extra-biblical” healings, then the passage from Mark’s Gospel:

Two extra-biblical accounts of healing miracles from the Graeco-Roman world:

1  One of the common people of Alexandria, well-known for his loss of sight, threw himself before Vespasian’s knees, praying him with groans to cure his blindness, being so directed by the god Serapis, whom this most superstitious of nations worships before all others; and he besought the emperor to deign to moisten his cheeks and eyes with his spittle.  Another, whose hand was useless, prompted by the same god, begged Caesar to step and trample on it.

Vespasian at first ridiculed these appeals and treated them with scorn; then, when the men persisted, he began at one moment to fear the discredit of failure, at another to be inspired with hopes of success by the appeals of the suppliants and the flattery of his courtiers; finally, he directed the physicians to give their opinion as to whether such blindness and infirmity could be overcome by human aid.  Their reply treated the two cases differently; they said that in the first one, the power of sight had not been completely eaten away and it would return if the obstacles were removed; in the second case the joints had slipped and become displaced, but they could be restored if a healing pressure were applied to them.  Such perhaps was the wish of the gods, and it might be that the emperor had been chosen for this divine service; in any case, if a cure were obtained, the glory would be Caesar’s, but in the event of failure, ridicule would fall only on the poor suppliants.

So Vespasian, believing that his good fortune was capable of anything and that nothing was any longer incredible, with a smiling countenance and amid intense excitement on the part of the bystander, did as he was asked to do.

The hand was instantly restored to use, and the day again shone for the blind man.  Both facts are told by eyewitnesses even now, when falsehood brings no reward.  (Tacitus: Annals 14, 81).

2  [A dumb boy] came to the sanctuary (Epidaurus) seeking to recover his voice.  As he was presenting his first offering and performing the usual ceremony, the acolyte who bears the fire (for the sacrifice) to the god turned and said to the father of the boy, “Will you promise, if you get your wish, between now and the end of the year, to bring the offering you owe as a fee for the healing?”  At once the boy cried out, “I promise!”  The father was greatly astonished, and told him to say it again.  The boy said it again, and was made whole from that moment. (FC Grant, Hellenistic Religions)

Mark 7: 31-37:  Jesus Cures a Deaf Man
31Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ 35And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36Then Jesus* ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’


We had a wide-ranging discussion using the following worksheet, and covering the bullet points listed below it

There are four questions to discuss this evening.  They fall within the context of the readings on the Work Sheet.

Mark 7: 31 – 37
The Healing of a Deaf Person without Speech is unique as a record in Jesus’ time, both in the Gospels and in secular writings.  There are later histories but none that are contemporaneous. 

This was also a particularly difficult condition to suffer from as such people were considered ineducable, and consequently barred from owning property, acting as witnesses (cf the validity of the testimony of women) with other legal exclusions.  So, this man and his Healing are particular and highly dramatic.  In a world where failure in life (illness, poverty) was sometimes thought of as punishment for the sins of the afflicted or their father, grandfather etc., this is an important miracle in its throwing over the pre-judgements of his contemporaries.

Is there also symbolism to be explored in the nature of the physical ailment and metaphorical deafness and inability to speak out and bear witness?  Are there other healing stories which shed light on this one, or vice versa?

  • A first task: Compare the story of the healing of a deaf man with a speech defect with the two extra-biblical healing stories.
  • A second task: What can we learn from the above about illness and health in the Ancient Near East and the Old Testament to help us understand the Healing Story in Mark 7: 31 – 37? Why is Isaiah 32: 3 – 7 at least indirectly quoted at the end of Mark’s account?
  • A third task: What did Mark want to emphasise by putting the Healing Story in this context?
  • Last task: Can deaf people without speech of today be healed by Jesus’ power?  Would they want to be and what does this say about current identities?  What has our study of Mark 7: 31 – 37 taught us about this question?
  • differences in attitude and expectation (of various rewards) between Jesus as Healer and the Emperor-God Vespasian and the “professional” at Epidaurus
  • the request for privacy for the healing
  • the gentles of Jesus’ healing, the absence of gain or glory for him, its intimacy in touching the untouchable
  • the isolating, and other, effects of having no aural or verbal communication in a predominantly oral culture
  • Jesus’ sometimes puzzling, regular requests for secrecy: a cunning plan to get people talking? a desire not to become a celebrity? a recognition that the time was not right for disclosure?  political expediency?  humility?
  • the significance of the time and context of this story as recounted in Mark – BEFORE Peter’s recognition and confession, and before the public affirmation of the Transfiguration – both in the following chapter
  • a definition of healing – then and now – its relationship with being cured, and wholeness and the place and power of prayer in healing
  • particular attention to an Old Testament passage from Isaiah – a prophetic description of the future Messianic age – echoed in Mark’s story by the crowd, and quoted in Luke as a message of re-assurance about Jesus’ identity to John the Baptist in prison: 5 Isaiah 35: 5-6a
    Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
    6 then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.


Finally, we listened to a Beethoven Piano Sonata, Opus 90 composed by Beethoven in 1814 when he had lost almost all his hearing.  It allowed a brief mediation on hearing, without sound and upon wholeness.