Act 1: Scene 7. From Darkness to Light: Mark 7.1-8.30

by DrWinn on August 3, 2016

First Act. Presentation of Jesus: Mark 1.14-8.30
Act 1: Scene 7. From Darkness to Light: Mark 7.1-8.30

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Mark's Story of Jesus

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 “unclean,” 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.)

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 ‘unclean’ 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 but rules taught by men.’
You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”

And he said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban’ (that is, a gift devoted to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”
Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.’”

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

He went on: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’ ”

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

“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 their dogs.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.”

His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”

“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.

“Seven,” they replied.

He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people, and they did so. They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them. The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward, the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. About four thousand men were present. And having sent them away, he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the region of Dalmanutha.

The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.” Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. “Be careful,”

Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”

They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.”

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

“Twelve,” they replied.

“And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

They answered, “Seven.”

He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”

He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”

Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t go into the village.”

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way, he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Christ.”

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

Personal Narrative

A sense of humor is a wonderful thing to have and use. In the Western world, we tend to teach in a formal didactic way, i.e., here is the information, learn it, and demonstrate that you know it, pass an exam, sometimes a multiple choice exam, which in my opinion, is the worst kind of education available. My wife often tells friends that it is difficult to know when I am joking, i.e., using a sense of humor, or when I am serious. If in my hearing, I often tell them that she is seriously joking about her difficulty. A sense of humor is helped when folks to whom you are speaking have a “point of reference” for what is being said. At a speaking engagement in Canada, I opened with a few “jokes” to warm up the crowd so to speak. I broke the first rule of communication, knowing your crowd. They did not have the points of reference that made the jokes click. One of the reasons folks like Jay Leno, when he hosted The Tonight Show, got laughs across the country was that he told jokes that most of his listening audience, whether in Boston, Los Angeles, Miami, Seattle, and all points between, knew the point(s) of reference. A person who doesn’t get a joke does so because they are not privy to the point of reference that makes the joke work. So, when we read passages like “white washed tombs” in Matthew (23.27), in which Jesus is addressing the law teachers and Pharisees, we miss the humor because we are not privy to the point of reference that made that funny to a first century Jew. Mark points out Jesus’ sense of humor in this section. See if you can pick it up.

Observing the Story

This section of Mark’s narrative is concerned with defilement: a list of opposites to contrast and has three segments: clean hands (Mark 7.1-8); corban (Mark 7.9-13); and corrosion (Mark 7.14-23). In the second section (Mark 7.24-8.30), Mark tells stories that demonstrate that when the rule of God appears, darkness turns into light. There are six stories:

  1. the Syrophoenician woman with a demonized daughter,
  2. a deaf and speechless man in Decapolis,
  3. four thousand people feeding,
  4. leaven,
  5. progressive eye healing,
  6. and confession.

Interpreting the Story

Defilement: Clean Hands Anyone (Mark 7.1-8)

Let’s start with a thought about presentation and our usual focus on reading with literalness in mind. Given our propensity to think in Greek philosophical terms, i.e., in this case, the concept of inner and outer, causes us to focus on the wrong aspect of the story. From this point of view, there are volumes of psychological material that have been created, especially in the area of a new focus on an older idea of Spiritual Disciplines. The focus on the inner part of the human vs. the outer part of the human is a Platonic philosophical construct that we have forced onto our reading of Scripture that was not the mindset of the writers of the biblical stories. For example, heart in the Bible is a metaphor for the whole of a human. We are not parts contrary to our propensity to be swayed by Plato even though we don’t know that we are persuaded by his philosophy. In these encounters Jesus is using the literary idea of contrast to make his point; he is not speaking anthropologically, i.e., the actual way a person is built.

In the previous section of his story, Mark told the story of Jesus feeding 5,000 people. This prompted the question we find in this section about clean hands. The Pharisees had walked about 100 miles to ask the question, “Why don’t your disciples wash their hands before they eat?” This “washing” referred to the ceremonial washing of hands. The Pharisees and teachers were interested in the preciseness of the “traditions of the elders,” while Jesus was interested in seeing the commands of God as more important than the traditions that had been created in order to keep the commands of God.

Think for a moment in your own walk with Jesus about the many traditions that have been offered you to follow, which have become more important than the command of God that the tradition has been built upon. The conflating of the two brings the pain when you break the tradition and then are accused by fellow Jesus followers of breaking a command of God. There is, according to the writer of Ecclesiastes, nothing new under the sun.

Defilement: Corban (Mark 7.9-13)

Jesus continues his thoughts about defilement. He tells the religious leaders that they were clever at sidestepping God’s Law in order to observe their own tradition (see Mark 7.8). Moses had set forth a command regarding a person’s duty toward his parents. The children’s responsibility included adequate financial support and practical care for their needs in their old age. A person who treated his parents with disregard faced the death penalty. A scribal tradition had arisen that sidestepped the command. It was possible for a person to declare all his possessions to be Corban (a gift devoted to God) and absolve himself of the command to take care of his parents. To sanction religious donations at the expense of violating God’s command was to set human tradition above God’s word. It is not difficult to see how man-made rules can often negate what God has in mind to do through us as a community of faith as well as through us individually as a part of a larger community of faith. This idea continues today among Jesus followers. As an example, we have turned the care of our elderly over to the government in many cases, expecting the government to produce the care that was the responsibility of the children for their elderly parents.

Defilement: Corrosion (Mark 7.14-23)

Jesus now provides a list of things that corrodes a human being using contrast. A person may ascribe to ritual purity and look like he or she is pietistic, but be a corrupt person. Remember, this is a literary form of communication, not the actual way in which a human being is built. Think of it a description of as a whole person who looks one way but is, in fact, something different. It’s quite a list and is not unlike Paul’s works of the flesh list in Galatians Five.

The catalog of evil Jesus gave has a strong Old Testament flavor and consists of twelve items. First, there are wicked acts viewed individually: sexual immorality (illicit sexual activities of various kinds) theft, murder; adultery (illicit sexual relations by a married person); greed (insatiable craving for what belongs to another); and malice. Second, there are six evil dispositions: deceit (cunning maneuvers designed to ensnare someone for one’s personal advantage); lewdness (unrestrained and unconcealed immoral behavior); envy (a begrudging, jealous attitude toward the possessions of others); slander (injurious or defaming speech against God or man); arrogance (boastfully exalting oneself above others who are viewed with scornful contempt); and folly (moral and spiritual insensitivity). These habits of life are the habits of this present evil age. They are to be replaced by the habits of life of the age to come. This means, according to Paul that, to live according to the fruit of the Spirit, which are the characteristics of the future age.

We now come to the six stories in scene 7 that finish the first act of Mark’s story.

Story 1: You Talkin’ to Me, I’m Just a Dog (Mark 7.24-30)

Previously Jesus wiped out the distinction between clean and unclean foods and redefined it. He now moves his ministry into Gentile territory to Tyre, an unclean territory to the Jews. The Jew would never soil his lips with unclean food and he would never soil his life by contact with an unclean Gentile. Jesus now gives further evidence that the rule of God is invading the hostile realm of Satan that keeps human prisoners bound in sickness and want until Jesus comes to release them. In Tyre, a Mediterranean seaport city in Phoenicia (modern Lebanon) about 40 miles northwest of Capernaum, Jesus went to a home for rest, but a mother whose daughter was demonized found Jesus and begged him to help her daughter. “First let the children eat all they want, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” The Jews considered themselves the privileged children by heredity and self-righteous ritual.The word dog was a rude statement of contempt the Jews used when speaking about Gentiles. If the term dog was an insult, then how are we to understand its usage by Jesus? We may note that he did not use the common word for dog but rather a word that meant pet or lap-dog. This change took the sting out of the word. The woman responded with wit and tenacity to the ironic parody of Jewish exclusiveness. When the ancient person ate, it was not with modern utensils, he or she ate with his or her fingers and hands. When a person was through, that person would wipe their hands on a piece of bread and throw it to the house-dogs. She opened the door wide enough not only to accept Jesus’ veiled invitation to eat the children’s bread, but she insisted on eating it right then while the favored members of the household were eating at the table. He declared freedom for her daughter from the demon. We must note that Jesus did not have to go to the daughter to make her free from demonization. This is a model the church needs to learn. We can actually, also, pray at a distance for Jesus to heal any kind of abnormality.

The word dog was a rude statement of contempt the Jews used when speaking about Gentiles. If the term dog was an insult, then how are we to understand its usage by Jesus? We may note that he did not use the common word for dog but rather a word that meant pet or lap-dog. This change took the sting out of the word. The woman responded with wit and tenacity to the ironic parody of Jewish exclusiveness. When the ancient person ate, it was not with modern utensils, he or she ate with his or her fingers and hands. When a person was through, that person would wipe their hands on a piece of bread and throw it to the house-dogs. She opened the door wide enough not only to accept Jesus’ veiled invitation to eat the children’s bread, but she insisted on eating it right then while the favored members of the household were eating at the table. He declared freedom for her daughter from the demon. We must note that Jesus did not have to go to the daughter to make her free from demonization. This is a model the church needs to learn. We can actually, also, pray at a distance for Jesus to heal any kind of abnormality.

Story 2: Decapolis Deaf and Speechless (Mark 7.31-37)

People do not like to be treated in such a fashion that they lose their dignity. They shun being treated with disrespect. No one signs up to be bruised, burned, or banished by another person or church. This story illustrates how Jesus treated the person who could not hear and hardly speak. He took the ailing man aside from the crowd, a tender consideration for the man. He treated the man as an individual. In this passage, we have a proximity to speaking in tongues, which often comes as a shock to readers, especially those who think that “tongues” first occurred on the day of Pentecost. Since Jesus was also filled with the Spirit (Luke 4), it is not unreasonable to get a glimpse of him demonstrating what was to come to humankind in the future. In short, he was a purveyor of the kingdom, living now the presence of the future. Verse 34 says that Jesus gave a deep sigh. The same word appears in Mark 8.12, there translated sighed deeply. The word translated sigh is the same as groan in Romans 8.23. The word was a technical term in the Hellenistic world for prayer that did not involve the mind but was called forth by the Spirit. The word ephphatha (Mark 7.34) was an expression in a strange language that was often used concerning healing and casting out demons. This is not a conclusive argument, but should give our minds some elasticity on the subject.

Story 3: Feeding of Four Thousand (Mark 8.1-13)

How many of us would go three hours, much less three days, in an arid place without food to hear the word of Jesus? Jesus had compassion on these people because of their faithfulness. This is a story that shows the result of a faithful servant to do what he was told to accomplish. Where do you think these 4,000 folks came from? Remember the Decapolis demoniac that Jesus freed (Mark 5.1-20) and told him to go home and tell his friends the good news? Because he followed Jesus by following his command, there was a complete turnaround in the lives of these people. When they first met Jesus, they wanted him to depart from their presence. Now they couldn’t get enough of his presence and stayed with him three days without food. We never know what God will do with one person who obeys what he calls them to do. We live in an era where sign-seeking is a way of life. Some people will not move until they discover what the stars say for their life for the day. Others look to cards and all kinds of items to discover what life is all about. It seems that it takes much more faith to believe in these things than the simple faith it takes to believe in Jesus in our actions. Nothing much has changed! As I wrote previously, there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1). The men of the day in which Jesus lived were looking for the Messiah to appear by looking for sensational, super-celestial signs. The answer Jesus gave was that there would be no sign because the sign (Jesus) was living among them. He is still living among us in the many acts of life in our day to day existence. Where do you see him?

Story 4: Learning from Experience and Growth (Mark 8.14-26)

It seems that this group left their homes hastily to find Jesus, which probably accounts for them not bringing any bread for their meal. Jesus used this incident to warn them to be continually on guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod Antipas. Yeast was a common Jewish metaphor for an invisible and pervasive influence. A little amount of yeast can affect a large amount of dough. As was common with the learning disciples, they missed the metaphor and thought Jesus was speaking about their bread shortage. We are no different. We miss the point of Jesus most of the time. His rebuke of the disciples is presented in five piercing questions that displayed the disciples’ constant lack of understanding.

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

His rebuke of them was because they failed to grasp the meaning of his presence with them. They simply did not get it, as we often don’t. With his final question, he expressed that his words and works could still be misunderstood.

Story 5: The Healing of the Blind Man at Bethsaida (Mark 8:22-26)

This is the only recorded miracle that came in stages. Sight in this story is a metaphor for understanding. Jesus led the man outside the village and spit on his eyes and touched him. At first, the healing was only partial. Jesus’ question indicated that this progressive healing was intentional. It was not because the man did not have the correct amount of faith. Those that teach this story with that emphasis are simply misguided. The second touch brought complete restoration of the man’s eyes. He gave the man a command to be silent to safeguard Jesus’ own planned activity. This miracle also demonstrated how the disciples were in the process of understanding the ministry of Jesus in bringing the rule of God to earth. Really, it is okay to be in a constant progressive state of knowing and following Jesus. No one has ever comprehended “all” of Jesus at once, if ever!

Story 6: Confession (Mark 8.27-30)

Peter’s confession is placed at the center of Mark’s story. To this point, the question had been, “Who is this man?” From this point forward the question will be, “What kind of Messiah will he be?” During the twenty-five mile trip from Bethsaida to the villages around Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked his disciples what people were saying about me. Jesus often used questions as a starting place for teaching (8.29; 9.33; 12:24-25), which is still a great tactic today. When they responded, he asked them who they thought he was. Peter declared openly that Jesus was the Messiah of God. After the open confession, Jesus warned (ordered) them not to tell anyone. Jesus’ mission was broader in nature than the common expectation, which caused him to be reluctant to use the title.

Living Into The Story

  • What have you learned from this section that will help you process the contrasts of living between the times where life tugs at you to follow one way while the Spirit tugs you to live another way?
  • What does each of the stories that are told about Jesus in this section teach about how a community of faith should operate? Finding that answer first will help you discover how it may apply to you as an individual.
  • Read Mark 8.31-10.52
Helpful Resources

Easy to Understand
Tom Wright. Mark for Everyone (New Testament for Everyone [Paperback]

Winn Griffin. Gracelets: Being Conduits of the Extravagant Acts of God’s Grace [Paperback]

Advanced
Ben Witherington III. The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary.
William L. Lane. The Gospel according to Mark: The English Text With Introduction, Exposition, and Notes (The New International Commentary on the New Testament)

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