The Gospel text for this Sunday [Mark 7:31-37] has a ‘wonderful’ word that a person could talk (or write) about for a long time. It is wonderful because it supports the point that sometimes a word in one language does not easily translate into another language.
It is the word that is translated ‘sighed’ in our text (verse 34). In the New Testament it only appears five other times (2 Corinthians 5:2 and 4, Hebrews 13:17, Romans 8:23, and James 5:9). In the first four places, the word is translated as ‘groan’. In the passage from James, it is translated as ‘grumble’.
It is certainly difficult to see Jesus groaning or, especially, grumbling. The definition in the dictionary [BDAG, page 942] is long—and hopefully helpful: ‘to express oneself involuntarily in the face of an undesirable circumstance.’ And the passage in James is connected to the following, significantly shorter definition: ‘to express discontent’.
It is also difficult to describe Jesus as ‘expressing discontent’. That is probably why, in some ancient manuscripts, another similar word was substituted, and the word simply means to ‘sigh deeply’. It is used in Mark 8:12. Jesus’ enemies were looking for a sign from Jesus, and, after he sighs deeply, he tells them that no sign will be given them.
There could also be a connection to the somewhat well-known other option of Mark 1:41. After the leper comes to Jesus and says, ‘If you will, you can make me clean’, in some manuscripts, Jesus’ response is to get angry! The context of the chapter is very helpful there; in the previous verses, Jesus was very much showing his willingness to heal and to help, and for someone NOT to get that is significant!
The dictionary has the following note regarding this passage in Mark 7: ‘In connection with a healing, probably as an expression of power ready to act.’ I think another emphasis is possible. Perhaps it would be best to think of this situation in Mark 7 as a reaction to an ‘undesirable circumstance’.
The perspective of the Gospel according to Mark is very similar to a battle. Who, in their right mind, would like a battle? Something extremely important must be at stake. Jesus is in the midst of a big one for all mankind.
The four gospel accounts do not simply compare to four reporters who were sent to a big fire, and they came up with three similar accounts (Matthew-Luke) and one significantly different account (John). They were like four reporters who were sent to a fire and were specifically told to focus on four different, important things. And Mark was told to picture the event as a battle. And his ‘living creature’ is the lion.
If you are interested, the word was used somewhat recently in Maccabees a couple of times (1 Maccabees 1:26 and 4 Maccabees 9:21). Both have a fighting context.
Jesus keeps fighting, all the way to the cross.