Summary Mark seven records three events or actions: a controversy about observing the tradition of the elders initiated by the Pharisees and scribes; the Syncrophoecian woman who asks for a demon to be cast out of her daughter; and the healing of a deaf man. The Pharisees notice that Jesus' disciples are eating without first having washed their hands, and they ask Jesus why they are not observing the tradition of the elders. Jesus calls them hypocrites, telling them that they abandon God while holding on to human tradition. He tells them that nothing outside a person going in can defile but only what is inside coming out defiles.
The Syrophoenician woman is Greek and Gentile; this begins the movement of Jesus from Galilee into the north and into Gentile territory. Though recognizing herself Greek and understanding Jesus' mission to the Jews, this woman, nonetheless, asks for healing for her daughter, which Jesus performs at a distance.
Jesus is in Decapolis when he heals the deaf man; this is the area where the man indwelt by many demons had witnessed to the authority of Jesus, recognizing him as the Son of God, the place called the region of the Gerasenes. Decapolis consisted of ten cities, mostly Gentile. Jesus addresses this deaf man in Aramaic, indicating he is probably Jewish even though in a Gentile region.
How radical is the message of Jesus? In the controversy in this chapter about his disciples not washing their hands, Jesus overturns tradition in one swift stroke by declaring all foods clean. To understand fully, as even the disciples do not, one needs to remember that the tradition of the elders included a body of legislation which prescribed detailed applications of the Law of Moses. Jesus, like the Sadducees, rejected this additional legislation, even though the practice of the Sadducees in many ways coincided with that of the tradition. Jesus characterizes this legislation as a human creation, standing in antithesis to the commands of God. This legislation, though designed with the good intention of helping people uphold the Law of Moses, had the counter effect of causing them to break it; for example, Jesus cited the responsibility that children had to support and care for their parents, using Exodus 20.12and 21.17 which speak of honoring and not cursing.
10 For Moses said, Honor your father and your mother; and, Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die. 11 But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban (that is, an offering to God ) 12 then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this."
Jesus knows that resources which could have been used to support elderly mothers and fathers is being promised instead to the upkeep of the temple; he sees this as outward piety, which, in reality, varies from the intent of the law itself. From such hypocrisy, Jesus moves to the human tradition of washing the hands, arguing that ritual cleansing or abstaining from foods would not alter the state of the heart, the real root of moral evil.
As always, one needs to read closely to determine fully what the story is relative to Jesus' action. When the Syrophoenician woman comes and bows at Jesus' feet, asking that he exorcise a demon from her daughter, Jesus says, "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the childrens food and throw it to the dogs." 28 But she answered him, "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the childrens crumbs." Jesus uses a figure of speech, indicating Jews in the word "children." The Greek woman recognizes the common "dogs" for Gentiles and responds by urging that even children drop crumbs whereby dogs are fed.
Note that Jesus commands the deaf man's ears to be opened.
His speech impediment is probably the result of not hearing; Jesus takes him away from the crowds into a more private area, lays his hands on--for he would not have heard words--looks up to heaven in a visible prayer and asks that the ears be opened. At the same time, the deaf man is also made to speak. Recall Isaiah 35.5, 6: "4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart, 'Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.' 5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6 then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.
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