He put his finger into the man’s ears
and, spitting, touched his tongue (Mark 7.33).
Let us consider the healing properties of spit.
It’s a lubricant for one thing, making that chunk of food you chewed up more slippery so it can get down your throat. Plus, staying with the digestion theme, spit is brimming with enzymes that help chemically break down that chunk, especially if it’s starchy.
But those are not really healing properties.
A little bit closer, perhaps, are the antibodies in saliva. They help keep in check all those tooth-decay critters, not to mention other kinds of infections in the oral cavity. Here again, however, we’re not talking about healing, but something closer to brushing and flossing – preventative action in other words.
So, how about some of the other attributes of spit – like acid-base buffering, for instance, and its role in helping us taste things. But, once again, we’re back to functional and prophylactic actions, not healing.
And licking wounds to help them heal quicker? Don’t buy the hype.
Then there’s Jesus’ spit.
The Gospel on Valentine’s Day was Mark’s depiction of Jesus healing a deaf man with a bad speech impediment – bad enough that tradition refers to him as mute. Keep in mind that the one doing the healing in this story is the God-man, theLogos, the Second Person of the Divine Trinity. Plenty of times in the Gospels we see Jesus healing people by simply declaring it done – much like how creation itself was spoken into being: “Let there be light! Let there be water and earth! Let there be creatures and Man.” Obviously, Jesus was capable of healing by just giving the word. But that’s not how he did it this time.
Instead, He spits – presumably on His hand – and touches it to the guy’s tongue. This is after He puts His fingers in the deaf man’s ears. And, after ordering aloud that ears and mouth be opened, lo and behold, hearing is restored and the man speaks plainly! Miraculous spit!
No. I’m guessing it was ordinary spit – probably about 99% water, with a handful of trace elements and compounds thrown in to do all that other stuff I mentioned above. Plain, ordinary, human spit, just like yours and mine. Consequently, the scene Mark describes is a bit disgusting. The poor man seeks healing, and the healer spits on him. Some healer! And yet…it works.
We are God’s spit. We don’t have any inherent healing properties of our own, but God can still use us to bring healing in the lives of others. He doesn’t need us to do it that way, but He chooses to do so from time to time, and for inscrutable reasons. We can’t understand it: Why would He want to use somebody like me? I’m no good; I have so many problems and doubts; I struggle with temptation and sin; I’m mean; I’m selfish; I’m broken.
No matter. He uses us anyway, and, if we cooperate, wonder of wonders, miraculous things do happen. “When we draw near with tender love to those in need of care,” writes Pope Francis, “we bring hope and God’s smile to the contradictions of the world.”
See that? It got even weirder. We start out as God’s spit, and end up as His smile. Who can fathom the ways of this strange, Divine Physician?
image: Christ healing the blind by El Greco/Wikimedia Commons
Editor’s note: A version of this story appeared on Oblation, a blog of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.