Masterclass: The Gospel of Mark

Part 7: Jesus Heals

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We are continuing to learn from Jesus in Masterclass. In Mark 7, Jesus encounters religious opposition, a desperate mother, and a hearing and speech-impaired man. Through these encounters, we are encouraged to come to Jesus for healing. Jesus heals our hearts, our families, and the world, as we respond to the Good News and make Him known.

What Defiles a Man? 

At the start of Mark 7, the Pharisees seek to catch Jesus in some sort of unrighteousness, but fail once again. This time, they saw that His disciples did not ceremoniously wash their hands before eating, and asked Jesus why He allowed them to do this. Jesus responded by calling out the Pharisees’ hypocrisy and citing the Prophet Isaiah: “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.” You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions (Mark 7:6-8).

The Pharisees had begun to focus more on the law itself than on God’s intent for their lives. They had come to idolize the law, using it to elevate themselves above others and allowing their knowledge and strict adherence to rules to fill them with pride. The religious elite created additional rules in the service of God’s rules, creating a weight too burdensome to carry. Humanity’s sinful nature led them to focus so heavily on created rules that they became blind to The Creator for whose glory the rules were established. 

Jesus went on to say the Pharisees often set aside God’s Commandments for their own traditions. He provided an example: if a man had pledged his money to the Temple but at the time of his death his parents were in need, the Pharisees would still insist he honor his pledge instead of honoring the Fifth Commandment to honor his father and mother.

Then, in verses 14 and 15, Jesus said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” 

Jesus later explains to His disciples that no food defiles a person, because the food goes to his stomach, not his heart, and eventually leaves the body. In verses 21 and 22 He says, “For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.”

When times get tough, and we get frustrated, the content of our heart is often exposed. Consider the last time someone cut you off in traffic, or a similar inconvenience. In fits of emotion, we tend to let out the sinful thoughts we’ve gathered and allowed to live in our hearts. When Jesus declared that all foods are clean, He didn’t lower the standards for His people one bit! It’s not easy to keep clean in what we eat and how to eat it, but it’s very hard to keep our very hearts clean from sinful thoughts. 


The Faith of a Gentile

In the story above, Jesus leaves the Jews theologically. In this story, he also leaves them geographically! In a place called Tyre, where Pagan worship was common, a woman fell before Jesus and asked Him to drive a demon from her daughter. If you read through Mark 5 with us, you know that the last person to beg Jesus to help a daughter was the leader of a synagogue.  Now a Gentile mother is doing the same! And as we will eventually see, Jesus delivers healing in response to the faith of these two people who could not be more different from one another. 

At first, Jesus seems to deny the woman’s request. In verse 27, He says, “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.” To many, this is a startling statement to hear from Jesus, so let’s unpack it.

First of all, did Jesus call her a dog? Well, the translation into English makes it sound like Jesus is using a slur against this non-Jew. But in the original Greek language, the word for dog was kynarion, which specifically refers more affectionately to a little domesticated dog, like a household pet. 

The purpose of this language is not to insult the woman, or to dehumanize her, but to use a metaphor to communicate the priorities of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The children represent Israel, and the bread is Jesus’ ministry. The dogs are the Gentiles.

For many, pets are beloved members of the home. But we would never let our children go hungry to feed the dogs! The same was the case for Jesus. Because He was fully man as well as fully God, He had the limitations of a human lifetime. Therefore, he needed to prioritize His teaching for the Nation of Israel, who were most likely to receive His message. Jesus wasn’t forgetting the Gentiles, He was being strategic: He knew that after He rose into heaven, His Apostles would do the work of spreading the Gospel to the ends of the earth. 

But this Gentile had astonishing faith. She was the first person, even before Jesus’ followers, shown in Scripture to understand one of His parables without explanation. In fact, she extended His parable: “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 

This woman stepped into Jesus’ narrative, which is the truth, and petitioned from that place. How often do we ask Jesus to step into our view of how things should be? She also, like a pet, valued the little bits that the children would not value. She truly believed even the scraps of Jesus’ power were enough for her, and she was right. And, finally, like a dog at dinnertime staring at her owner, she was persistent and faithful in asking for healing. 


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