Jesus Teaches about Inner Purity / 7:1-23
7:1-2 Another group from Jerusalem came to investigate this new rabbi who was causing such a stir throughout the country. The Pharisees and teachers of religious law were ready to debate Jesus about the fact that his disciples did not follow all of the laws of the Pharisees’ oral tradition. As these religious leaders scrutinized Jesus and his disciples, they noticed that some of Jesus’ disciples failed to follow the usual Jewish ritual of hand washing before eating. This referred not to washing for cleanliness, but to a particular kind of washing that made a person “ceremonially clean” before eating.
7:3 Mark explained this “ritual of hand washing” for his Roman readers. The Pharisees did not eat until they had performed a ceremonial washing where water would be poured over their cupped hands. They did this so that they would not eat with “defiled” hands, for they believed that they then would become defiled. They scrupulously followed this law, thinking that this ceremony would cleanse them from any contact they might have had with anything considered unclean.
The origin of this ceremonial washing is seen in the laver of the Tabernacle, where the priests washed their hands and feet prior to performing their sacred duties (Exodus 30:17-21). That was part of God’s law. But oral tradition extended this law to all Jews to be performed before formal prayers and then before eating. So before each meal, devout Jews performed a short ceremony, washing their hands and arms in a specific way. But this was part of their ancient traditions, not a requirement of God’s law.
Jesus discerned that the Pharisees’ purpose was to keep up appearances, to demonstrate that they were not Gentiles, and to outdo the common people in priestly devotion. By their scrupulous observance of minute traditions and rituals, these religious leaders had completely lost their perspective on the reason the law of God had been given: to bring God’s Kingdom to earth, to provide reconciliation between God and his people, and to bring peace.
7:4 Mark explained this Jewish ceremonial cleansing ritual a bit further for his Roman audience. The religious leaders were aware that in daily business they might unknowingly come into contact with a Gentile or an unclean Jew and thereby become defiled. If they were defiled, they would be unable to perform their religious duties. So they would not eat anything from the market before they had immersed their hands in water—another form of ceremonial washing. The devout leaders observed many traditions, including laws about how to wash their dishes. There were laws for everything; no wonder the common people didn’t bother themselves with strictly following them. But the religious leaders kept all these laws because they believed their “cleanliness” equaled “godliness.” In their minds, keeping these laws showed their devotion and service to God. But Jesus could not have disagreed more.
7:5 Picking up from 7:2, Mark continued the narrative. The religious leaders asked Jesus why his disciples did not follow the age-old customs, one of which was not eating without first performing the hand-washing ceremony. Their underlying question was, “If you are really a rabbi, as holy and righteous and versed in the law as we are, then you should know that we don’t eat without first ceremonially washing our hands. That makes you no better than a common sinner, certainly not a rabbi whom all these people should be following!”
7:6-9 Jesus did not answer their spoken question, but their underlying one, by quoting the Scripture that they claimed to know so well. First, he called them hypocrites. A hypocrite is one who makes judgment from under a cover. The Pharisees pretended to be holy and close to God and judging all other people as sinners. But what they pretended on the outside was not true on the inside.
Jesus quoted from the prophet Isaiah. The Pharisees and teachers knew this Scripture. The prophet Isaiah criticized hypocrites (Isaiah 29:13), and Jesus applied Isaiah’s words to these religious leaders. They might say all the right words and give lip service to God, but their hearts were far from him. Jesus attacked their true heart condition. The problem: They replace God’s commands with their own man-made teachings and their own traditions. Their focus on minute rules of everyday life caused them to forget the scope of God’s law and what it meant for the people. As leaders, they were especially culpable, for they should have been teaching the people about God. Instead, they looked down on the people as ignorant sinners and spent their time busily staying pure. Isaiah explained that their worship was a farce. They worshiped for appearances, not out of love for God.
7:10-12 Next, Jesus gave an example to illustrate how the tradition could be (and was being) used to negate God’s law. Jesus first quoted Moses, an especially relevant choice because the religious leaders traced the oral law back to him (see Deuteronomy 4:14). Jesus chose an example about people’s duty toward their parents. One of the Ten Commandments, Honor your father and mother (Exodus 20:12), states that people are to respect their parents in honor of who they are and what they have done. The commandment did not apply just to young children, but to anyone whose parents were living. Honor includes speaking respectfully and showing care and consideration.
The same law is written negatively in Exodus 21:17, Anyone who speaks evil of father or mother must be put to death (see also Leviticus 20:9). Speaking evil of one’s parents is the opposite of honoring them. It means to speak ill of, to ridicule, to abuse verbally. The natural result of such behavior is that the person will not honor his parents for who they are, will not speak respectfully, and will certainly show no care or consideration to them. Such action carried a severe penalty.
The religious leaders knew Moses’ words, but they found a way to completely sidestep God’s command to honor parents. The words but you say demonstrated their opposition to what Moses had written (7:10). What Jesus described here was the practice of “Corban” (literally, “offering”) where a person could dedicate something to God for his exclusive use by withdrawing it from profane or ordinary use by anyone else. People could dedicate money to God’s Temple that otherwise would have gone to support their parents (based on Deuteronomy 23:21-23 and Numbers 30:1-16). So a man could simply take the vow of Corban, saying that he had vowed to give to God what he could have given to his parents. He could still use his money any way he chose, but could use his Corban vow as an excuse to disregard his needy parents. Corban had become a religiously acceptable way to neglect one’s parents. Although the action—dedicating money to God—seemed worthy and no doubt conferred prestige on the giver, these religious leaders were ignoring God’s clear command to honor parents.
7:13 The Corban vow effectively put tradition above God’s word. To be able to exempt oneself from one of God’s commandments by taking a human vow meant that the Pharisees had attempted to break the law of God.
Jesus added that the Pharisees did many, many things like that. This was only one example of the premeditated selfishness of these religious leaders who set themselves above all the people and, in effect, destroyed the laws that they took so much pride in keeping. In his example, Jesus clarified to these hypocritical religious leaders that God’s law, not oral tradition, should be the true authority over people’s lives.
7:14-15 Jesus addressed the crowd and the disciples regarding the true nature of “defilement.” The people had listened to Jesus’ stinging accusation of the religious leaders; here Jesus called the crowd to listen . . . and try to understand, for he would make his final point and have the final say in this debate. The Pharisees thought that to eat with defiled hands meant to be defiled (7:5). Jesus explained that the Pharisees were wrong in thinking they were acceptable to God just because they were “clean” on the outside. He explained that defilement is not an external matter (keeping food laws, washing ceremonially, keeping Sabbath requirements), but an internal one.
7:17-19 (Verse 16 is not in the earliest manuscripts.) In private, the disciples (specifically Peter, Matthew 15:15) asked him what he meant. Jesus explained that what goes into a person cannot defile that person. Eating food with hands that may have touched a “defiled” person or article did not mean that a person was ingesting defilement. Logically, as Jesus explained, food goes in the mouth, passes through the stomach, and then goes out. It has no effect whatever on the moral condition of the heart. Sin in a person’s heart is what defiles (see 7:14-15).
The Roman Christians, the primary audience of Mark’s Gospel, may have been confused about the Jewish food laws and whether they had to follow them. These words, he showed that every kind of food is acceptable, clarified this issue for them (although it took the early church several years to fully understand; see Acts 10 and 15).
The bottom line: People are not pure because of adherence to ceremonial laws and rituals. We become pure on the inside as Christ renews our minds and transforms us into his image.
7:20-23 Defilement occurs because of sin. Sin begins in a person’s heart—in the thought life—and what is in the heart comes out in words and actions. In Romans 6–8, Paul explained how this happens. Unless the Holy Spirit controls our sinful human nature, outbursts of the flesh will be prevalent. Evil thoughts begin within, in a person’s heart. While most people work hard to keep their outward appearance attractive, what is in their hearts is even more important. When people become Christians, God makes them different on the inside.
Jesus listed a catalog of twelve “evil thoughts” that begin in the heart. Six are evil individual actions; six are evil attitudes or principles. Notice that the evil attitudes, whether acted upon or not, are still considered sin:
Sexual immorality—Various kinds of extramarital sexual activity
Theft—Taking something that belongs to another
Murder—Taking the God-given life of another person
Adultery—A married person having sex with someone other than his or her spouse
Greed—Relentless urge to get more for oneself
Wickedness—Doing evil despite the good that has been received (malice)
Deceit—To trick or mislead by lying
Eagerness for lustful pleasure—Immoral behavior that is neither restrained nor concealed
Envy—Desire for something possessed by another
Slander—To destroy another’s good reputation
Pride—Making claims of superior intelligence or importance
Foolishness—Inability to discern between immorality and morality
All these things begin in a person’s heart. It is those evil actions and attitudes that cause defilement. Many of the words Jesus used could have described the Pharisees.
Jesus Sends a Demon Out of a Girl / 7:24-30
Jesus’ actions never yielded to simple explanations. Those who thought they had him “figured out” were usually about to be stunned. His opponents tended to see the hurting people who came to Jesus as cases to be solved or examples of those who broke the law. Jesus treated them as valuable human beings, worthy of his attention. The presumption that Jesus was out to trample God’s law might have led Jesus’ opponents to expect him to quickly heal the daughter of this Gentile woman. But instead of adding this situation to his portfolio of unusual miracles performed, Jesus ignored the opportunity to make a statement; instead, he dealt with this woman as an individual whose own faith needed to be challenged and clarified.
7:24 Jesus traveled about thirty miles to the region of Tyre and then went to Sidon (7:31). These were port cities on the Mediterranean Sea north of Israel. Both cities had flourishing trade and were very wealthy. They were proud, historic Canaanite cities. In David’s day, Tyre was on friendly terms with Israel (2 Samuel 5:11), but soon afterward the city became known for its wickedness. Its king even claimed to be God (Ezekiel 28:1ff.). Tyre rejoiced when Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 b.c. because without Israel’s competition, Tyre’s trade and profits would increase. Jesus and the disciples probably went to this Gentile territory thinking that they would be less well known. Then they could obtain privacy and rest time. They went to someone’s house (probably the home of a Jew who lived in that area) and did not want anyone to know they were there. But even in this Gentile territory, he couldn’t keep his presence secret.
7:25-26 The word of Jesus’ arrival had spread. One woman came to Jesus right away on behalf of her little girl who was possessed by an evil spirit. The woman fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to release her child from the demon’s control. Mark added that this woman was a Gentile.
7:27 Jesus answered her in the language of a parable. Jesus used the word for dogs that referred to household pets. The simple parable meant that the children at the table are fed before the pets; it would not be right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs. While it is true that in Jewish tradition Gentiles at times were referred to derogatorily as “dogs,” that probably does not apply here. The Greek word used as a derogatory nickname applied to wild dogs or scavenger dogs, not household pets.
Jesus’ ministry was first to his own family, the Jews. He would not take away from them to perform miracles for a Gentile. If that was what Jesus meant, we should realize that his words do not contradict the truth that God’s message is for all types of people (Psalm 22:27; Isaiah 56:7; Matthew 28:19; Romans 15:9-12). Jesus was simply telling the woman that the Jews were to have the first opportunity to accept him as the Messiah because God wanted them to present the message of salvation to the rest of the world (see Genesis 12:3). Jesus may have wanted to test her faith, or he may have wanted to use the situation as another opportunity to teach that faith is available to all races and nationalities.
7:28 Unlike many of Jesus’ Jewish listeners, this woman understood Jesus’ parable. Her answer was wise, for she explained to Jesus, by extending his parable, that the children who love the pets often drop crumbs to them. Not all the Jews accepted Jesus, while some Gentiles chose to follow him. Why couldn’t she have some of those “leftovers” that the Jews didn’t “eat”? She adroitly pointed out that such “dogs” ate with (not after) the children. She did not ask for the entire meal, just for a few crumbs—or one crumb in particular—one miracle of healing for her daughter.
Ironically, many Jews would lose God’s spiritual healing because they rejected Jesus, while many Gentiles, whom the Jews rejected, would find salvation because they recognized Jesus.
7:29-30 Jesus was delighted by the faith of the woman. He granted her request because of her humility and persistence. Her faith and understanding was in contrast to the misunderstanding of the disciples (6:52; 8:14-21). Her request had been made in faith that Jesus could perform the healing. His words had been meant to test her, and she had passed the test. She understood Christ’s lordship and that, as a Gentile, she had no right to request mercy from Jesus. She also willingly accepted his conditions. On that basis, Jesus healed the woman’s daughter. With his words, the demon left the little girl. This miracle showed that Jesus’ power over demons is so great that he doesn’t need to be present physically, or even to speak any word to the demon, in order to free someone. His power transcends any distance.
Jesus Heals Many People / 7:31-37
Mark selected instances from Jesus’ life to illustrate the many ways the Lord shows compassion for others. Mark seems to have made a connection between the deaf-mute here and the blind man in 8:22-26 with the deafness and blindness of the disciples described in 8:18. Jesus wants to open the ears and eyes of all who are deaf and blind so that they may receive the light of life.
7:31-32 The Ten Towns was a Gentile area, so this continues the emphasis of the previous miracle. Jesus had been in part of this region before (5:19-20). Mark alone recorded the miracle of the healing of this deaf and mute man. Apparently several of this man’s friends brought him to Jesus; they had faith that Jesus could heal him. The key to Mark’s recording of this miracle may be found in the Greek word translated speech impediment. That word is found only here and in the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament in Isaiah 35:6, where Isaiah wrote that one day “those who cannot speak will shout and sing.” Mark saw the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words in the healing ministry of Jesus.
7:33 Jesus wanted to heal this man, but again he wasn’t looking for crowd acclaim in his healings. So he took the man to a private place so they could be away from the crowd (see also 8:23). Jesus intended to deal with the man on a personal level—not use him as an advertisement of healing power.
Mark described this miracle in detail—apparently the disciples were with Jesus and the man. In this instance, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears and then spit onto his own fingers and touched the man’s tongue with the spittle. Jesus often used touch in his healings. In addition, spittle was commonly recognized in the ancient world as having healing properties. The man responded in faith and desire for healing.
7:34-35 Jesus looked upward to God (the source of his power) and sighed. The sigh was probably in sympathy for the suffering man. Whether Mark recorded these details to describe what always happened in healings or whether this was unusual, is uncertain. In any case, the healing took place. Jesus commanded that the man’s ears and mouth be opened. Immediately upon Jesus’ speaking the word, the deaf man could hear perfectly and speak plainly.
7:36-37 Even though the miracle had been done in private (7:33), its results were obvious to the waiting crowd. The man, formerly deaf and barely able to talk, suddenly could hear and speak. Jesus asked the people not to talk about this healing because he didn’t want to be seen simply as a miracle worker. He didn’t want the people to miss his real message. But the people simply could not keep quiet, and spread the news.
We’ll look at chapter 8 tomorrow. I’m praying that in this time of reading and reflection that you will KNOW Christ better,
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