Mark 7 Devotional
by Pastor Mark Hudson
The topic of purity or defilement (from a root that also means common) is prominent in the section 7:1-23 and continues in 7:24-30. To set the stage, have you noticed the growing tension between our Lord and the Pharisees? In Mark 2: 6, the scribes are questioning Jesus but silently – to themselves. He rebukes them in v. 8. Then in 2:16, the scribes of the Pharisees do not like that Jesus is spending time with tax collectors and sinners. In the same chapter, v. 24, the Pharisees are again questioning Jesus and trying to catch him in some unlawful behavior. In 3:1-6, the tension between Jesus and the Pharisees have reached the boiling point. The religious leaders, upon seeing a man healed on the Sabbath, go to the political authorities to plan how they can kill our Lord. This is a saddening low that angered the Lord (Mk 3:5).
After time away from the Pharisees, they enter the scene again in chapter 7, watching how Jesus does not observe ritual washings. If you were hoping for a rapprochement you will be severely disappointed.
Reading this portion of Mark’s gospel, you will notice why Mark is considered as a gospel for the Gentiles. He explains in vs. 3-4 why washing is important as if the readers would not be able to follow the importance of washing. In response to the Pharisees question, Jesus quotes Is 29:13 and leaves no doubt what Jesus thinks of their rules. This is a damning indictment of the Pharisees. First, he calls them hypocrites v. 6, then says their hearts are far from God v. 6 and their worship is vain v. 7 and they elevate man’s commandments as doctrine.
Look at the coupling of words in v. 8, you leave and hold, commandments and tradition and God and men. He summarizes in v. 9, You . . reject the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition. This is a declaration of anathema. This denunciation is clear to the red-faced Pharisees and must have elicited sideways, silent glances from apprehensive listeners.
Then he directs his teaching to the people in v. 14. Jesus gets to the heart of the matter saying it is not the things that go into a person that defiles. Rather all that comes out of a person defiles. Jesus lists all the things that come out of us (it isn’t pretty) and says that is what defiles. Many of the things that I say, what I think, what I do are not mistakes. They reveal what is inside. When I get squeezed by difficulties, what comes out is not sweetness and light but bitterness and darkness. That shows us we need Christ all over again.
In v. 19, in just 4 words in Greek and 6 in English, He declared the food laws are abrogated. This is another time when Christ repeals aspects of the Hebrew Bible that was set for a specific time and not eternal. This is a massive moment in the New Testament. Christ is breaking away from not just the dietary laws but violating the teaching of the Pharisees and setting the course of the New Testament ministry and Christian ministry around the world.
In verse 24, it seems like Jesus wants to get away from the tension in Israel, so he is in a house with a Gentile, a Syrophoenician woman who is sharp, humble, and wise. Jesus has left the tensions of Israel in the land of Israel. Jesus is in Canaanites country, an unusual place for Him to be in. This mother somehow found audience with Christ and boldly asked a favor. Her daughter, her “little daughter,” was in terrible straits. Hearing about Jesus and possibly exhausting all her other attempts, she begs Jesus to help.
Our Lord’s curious response is difficult, if not impossible, to completely understand. Is He testing her? Is He saying at this point in God’s plan, I am giving the Jews my first and best attempt? Later, after my death and resurrection, the Gentiles will be the focus of ministry? Is He seeing how she will respond? We know nothing of his body language, facial expression, or tone of voice.
But her response is priceless. She calls Him Lord, hinting at the faith she possess (along with coming there, getting in front of the Lord, and begging in this brief dialogue). She doesn’t demand anything, accepts her place, but wisely never leaves her concern for her daughter: her love and concern is front and center.
Jesus loves her response and admits that dogs eat at the same time as the children but very differently. He says I have healed your daughter. Did He plan to all along? Was He assessing how she would respond?
Not all of us are leaders, in the “in” group, or consulted. But we can be accepted by God. He even seeks us out like Jesus seeks out those to heal. We can be pure by the blood of Christ. Not by what we don’t eat or how often we go to church but by God’s grace. May we never forget that we are made acceptable to God by an alien righteousness – one that is extra nos (outside of us). It is Christ’s righteousness that purifies.
Father, I pretend I am like Jesus in these stories. But the truth is, I am closer to the Pharisees than I am to Christ. Lord Jesus, purify me. Cleanse me. Root out any and all evil that I hold on to and refuse to relinquish. Help me to hold to good godly tradition while rejecting man’s doctrine. Help me to discern where I err in that regard. Help me to have the same tenacity that Syrophoenician mother had. I want to be the one pushing to get near Jesus and begging for His mercy. Revive me for your sake. In Christ’s name, Amen.