The Surprising Words and Actions of Jesus:Some thoughts from Mark 7


We can get too used to the gospel stories and thereby loose their radical teaching, in Mark 7 we have several accounts which we are so used to that we miss the point. We have to remember that the world of Jesus time was very different than our own. The jews since the return from the exile had been determined to maintain their national and religious purity. To be a good Jew you had to follow the law but they had tended to codify the law so that it became a restricting and legal framework.  This was far from the original purpose of the law which was  a charter for the life of God’s people, The Psalmist in Psalm 119 shows what a true attitude to the law should be but the Pharisees had built structures around the law to make sure they got it right. Jesus saw that at the heart of keeping the law was  the love of God and neighbour, and that is why he reacts to the legalism of his day. it is very easy to criticize the Pharisees, yet at the same time we erect legalistic walls ourselves. Jesus did not invalidate the law but fulfilled its real intentions by His true love of God and neighbour.

The first section of Mark 7 Illustrates how different Jesus the attitude of Jesus is compared to the expected standards of his day.

The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.[a])

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are merely human rules.’[b]

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe[c] your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’[d] and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’[e] 11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” [16] [f]

17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)

20 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Jesus confronts here the emphasis on certain actions rather than the internal state of the person. It is the attitudes of the person and their thinking which ultimately drive them. They maybe able to cover up a multitude of sins by their outward behaviour but inwardly they are morally bankrupt. Jesus  addresses the need to deal with evil thoughts because it is these that defile a person more than eating with unwashed hands. Seeing Jesus list of things that come from within is sobering. If we look within what do we see? and when we look at the world around us, we see many of these attitudes and thought patterns justified or even stimulated by our culture. When we realise the attitudes of our own hearts, and we see others struggling we will extend a gracious helping hand. Jesus was perfect and yet he met people in their own state of need and brought the grace of God into many situations. This is illustrated clearly in the next section.

24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre.[g] He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”

30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

At first glance Jesus seems to push this lady away, but he is testing her faith when he uses this statement about “dogs” in ironic way. The lady picks up the challenge as she appeals to the way a household pet dog would be treated. She does not attempt to contradict Jesus but rather she puts herself in the place of a pet dog receiving food from her masters table.Jesus on seeing the response of her faith grants her desire to see her child freed from demonization. She returns home to find her child completely delivered. But Jesus demonstrates his love and grace in another rather strange story.

31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis.[h] 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.

33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

Notice that Jesus uses different methods to bring about his healing, he does not use one technique and indeed I can’t imagine a modern ministry team using this methodology. The whole procedure is strange and yet for some reason Jesus knows this is the way to bring healing to this man. He certainly transformed this mans life by his actions. To have hearing and speech restored is not a small matter and would have led to a very different life for this poor man.

Jesus shows in this chapter that observance of the law is not to be reduced to a legalistic performance but rather he demonstrates the real fulfilling of the law is in loving God and loving one’s neighbour.

About pneumaandlogos

David Rollings was born in Luton in1949 and raised by my Christian parents in the Gospel Standard Strict Baptist denomination( Hyper-Calvinistic} in the sixties I rebelled against this background and got involved in left-wing politics. I became a Christian in 1969 and soon started reading Francis Schaeffer's books and came to embrace a Christian Worldview. I had the privilege of being on the staff of L'Abti Fellowship from1975 - 1979. After L'abri I studied at London School of Theology where I gained my BA.(1983) A few years later I studied for my MA by distance learning with The Nazarene Theological College Manchester (1999) For the last 22 years, I have been an elder of Shoreham-by-Sea Baptist Church. I also regularly attend the Christian Doctrine Study Group of the Tyndale Fellowship.
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