MARK CHAPTER 7.
Concerning Ceremonial Washings. Mark 7, 1-13.
The Pharisees find fault: V. 1. Then came together unto Him the Pharisees and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem. V. 2. And when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault. V. 3. For the Pharisees and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders. V. 4. And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brazen vessels, and of tables. V. 5. Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, Why walk not Thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands? An instance of typical pharisaic pedantry, of deliberate, unwarranted faultfinding. Jesus had returned to Capernaum for a few days after the exciting and wearying experiences of a strenuous week. Here He finds a company of His enemies assembled; the contrast between the Lord's popularity during the last few days and the hostility of the Jewish religious leaders is brought out very strongly. It may be. that this delegation of Pharisees and scribes was the same one that was dogging Christ's footsteps since the casting out of devils, chapter 3, 22; or the authorities may have sent down even more learned and disputatious men than at first, as they were learning to respect the clear arguments and the sharp tongue of the Galilean Rabbi. The purpose of their coming was frankly not to hear the Word of Life, but to provoke disputes. Their opportunity came very soon. They saw some of Christ's disciples eat with common, with unwashed hands. This was their cue for an attack upon Jesus. Note: Not the question of sanitation caused them concern, but one which they considered affecting the standing of a believing Jew in the sight of God. Mark explains the difficulty on account of his Roman readers. It was the custom of the Pharisees and of all the strict Jews that observed the traditions of the elders religiously to perform certain washings, especially before partaking of food. The original purpose of this precept had undoubtedly been to promote sanitary conditions among the Jews, a fact which often shielded them against epidemics," But the Pharisees and elders at the time of Jesus emphasized such outward observances to the detriment and exclusion of the more important things, the factors of real religion. They washed their hands most diligently before eating, with their fists, to insure thoroughness or to prevent the soiling of one hand from the palm of the other. They were careful, at the same time, to have the washing extend at least to the wrist, according to others to the elbow. It must be vigorous and thorough, and be done just so, otherwise a person became guilty of not clinging firmly to the tradition of the elders, a most heinous offense in the sight of the orthodox Pharisee. When coming back from market especially, where they might unknowingly have touched something unclean, the strict Jews were most inexorable and oppressive in their demands for cleanliness, a thorough washing of the hands and arms, if not of the whole body, being a prime requisite at that time. This care had become so excessive that it extended to the dishes and the furniture of the house as a matter of Levitical purification. They had received, and adhered most firmly to, the tradition regarding the washing of drinking-cups, of wooden and brazen vessels, and even of couches or sofas. The word used here for utensils of brass is really a Latin word, meaning a Roman measure equal to about 1 1/2 pints. Earthen vessels are not mentioned, since they had to be broken if defiled, Lev. 15, 12. Thus the whole life of the Jews, down to the most minute performances of every-day life, was governed by such laws and precepts. Having explained the Jewish custom, Mark returns to his story. The Pharisees attack Jesus, finding fault both with His disciples and therefore with Him for transgressing the traditions of the elders, which were thus represented as just as sacred and inviolable as the commandments of God.
The Lord's answer: V. 6. He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoreth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. V. 7. Howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. V. 8. For laying aside the commandments of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups; and many other such like things ye do. In cases of weakness and lack of understanding the Lord was always willing to employ a great deal of patience, but in the case of the Pharisees, where utter hardness of heart was united with supercilious haughtiness and unwillingness to be taught, Jesus used the weapons of invective and sarcasm, and sometimes of bitter denunciation. He applies a double prophecy of Isaiah to them, chapter 29, 13. With their lips they honored the Lord, endless prayers with babbling repetition were their strong suit, but their heart was altogether away, at a great distance from Him. They were proud of their outward observance of the precepts of both the Law and of the tradition of the elders, believing that this was true service of God. But vain is such worship, the Lord informs them, since they teach and insist upon the doctrines of men. In accordance with this prophecy, Jesus fitly calls them hypocrites, actors of a kind, that go through the routine of their part, say their prayers, and make the appropriate gestures by rote, but who seldom or never can reach the spontaneous expression of one that speaks and acts out of the fullness of his heart. Like them, all people that place the commandments of men on the same level with God's holy Law and for the sake of their precepts change and even set aside the eternal Word of God, are hypocrites, whose heart is far from God, who do not give the Lord their heart, for otherwise they would have the proper reverence for the same. The rebuke of Jesus exactly strikes the sore spot: they put aside the command of God and cling to the tradition of men.
The attack of Christ: V. 9. And He said unto them, Full well ye reject the command of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. V. 10. For Moses said, Honor thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father and mother, let him die the death. V. 11. But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me, he shall be free. V. 12. And ye suffer him no more to do aught for his father or his mother; V. 13. making the Word of God of none effect through your tradition which ye have delivered; and many such like things do ye. Having defended Himself successfully and silenced His detractors, the Lord now assumes the offensive. He employs pointed sarcasm: It is a fine way in which you frustrate the commandment of God that your tradition may be upheld! The Pharisees not only placed the precepts of tradition on the same level with those of God, but by their peculiar emphasis upon them actually set the latter aside. An example of this irreverent and blasphemous method: setting aside the Fourth Commandment for the sake of a probable sacrifice. God's Law is clear on the relation of children to parents, Ex. 20, 12; Deut. 5, 16, also regarding the punishment of those that disregard the rights of the parents, Ex. 21, 17; Lev. 20, 9. He had placed the service to parents next to that of Himself. But the Pharisees took advantage of the fact that God had sanctioned free-will offerings or sacrifices. They taught: If a man says to his father or his mother, Corban, that is, a free-will gift, let that be what you would have from me for your benefit or help. The final understanding of the expression came to be: if a son or daughter took the money, the goods, the earnings, the means, with which he could and should assist his poor and needy parents, and dedicated it to God as a sacrifice or free-will offering for the Temple, he did well. The Pharisees held the mere making of such a vow, the mere use of the expression Corban, for a service done to God, which could very well take precedence of the service due to parents. In doing so, they set aside even the plain truth of the Old Testament, Prov. 28, 24. The result of such teaching soon became evident: The honor due to parents was forgotten, the fact that they were God's substitutes was disregarded. Thus they literally set at naught the Word of God, and such instances could be multiplied. That was Christ's attack, one that showed the real relation of values.
Christ's Denunciation of the Pharisees. Mark 7, 14-23.
Addressing the people: V. 14. And when He had called all the people unto Him, He said unto them, Hearken unto Me, every one of you, and understand: V. 15. There is nothing from without a man that, entering into him, can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. V. 16. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear. The question which had been broached by the Pharisees was by no means unimportant, if considered from the right angle and in the right connection. And Christ did not intend to be misunderstood by the people that had been interested witnesses of the encounter. Levitical impurity, ceremonial washings, they no longer have any value in the New Testament. But of far greater importance is spiritual impurity, whose nature a person should well understand, in order to strike at the root of the matter and stop the inclinations toward evil at the beginning. So Christ turns directly to the people; He calls the crowd to Him and addresses them all on this topic; He emphasizes the necessity of listening intently and intelligently, in order that they might understand. It is a sweeping statement: There is nothing outside of a person which may touch him or enter into him that can make him unclean, that will make him unfit for serving the Lord and taking part in His service. Christian worship and service is in no way dependent upon the outward appearance or habits of a person, whether he wears broadcloth or overalls, whether he washes his hands before meals or not, whether he eats certain foods or not. All these things are irrelevant and immaterial, so far as actual worshiping of the Lord is concerned. They may be watched for hygienic and sanitary reasons, just as we have good and laudable customs regarding our appearance at the house of God; but they do not concern the religion of a man, his relation to his God. But, Christ says, the things which come forth from the man, they are apt to make him unclean, they may disturb the confidence of the Lord in him, they may cause the relation between him and his God to be severed. It is an important point that the Lord here makes, and He wants to impress it upon His hearers.
The explanation to the disciples: V. 17. And when He was entered into the house from the people, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. V. 18. And He saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; V. 19. because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats? V. 20. And He said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. V. 21. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, V. 22. thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: V. 23. all these evil things come from within, and defile the man. The disciples had gotten into the habit of talking over the public teaching of the Lord, in order to find its true meaning, to get the full understanding. Here also they waited until Jesus came home with them, to the place where He, and, perhaps, they all were lodging at that time. Here they asked Him concerning this saying, which they call a parable, that is, in this case, an obscure saying, a comparison hard to understand. The evangelist notes the full speech of Jesus, in which He chode their lack of spiritual insight. Their stupidity is purposely made prominent, in order to bring out their need of instruction. Jesus here extends the saying, which before had touched only upon the moral sphere of man's life, in order to make His meaning still plainer. That which enters into the body from without, in the shape of food, cannot make him unclean morally or spiritually, it cannot affect the condition of his heart before God. Foods merely, generally speaking, influence the physical side of man. They are taken into the stomach, and finally the waste matter is thrown out by the body, thus actually purging the body of matter which might make him unclean. Thus Christ incidentally extended His saying concerning ceremonial uncleanness to abolishing the distinction maintained in the Old Testament concerning the cleanness and uncleanness of various foods. He practically declared all meats to be clean; the distinction which the Jews had so rigidly and rigorously observed was hereby abrogated for the New Testament.
But the lesson which Christ wanted to teach lay deeper; the physical side of the process touched upon by Him was only aside issue. That upon which all depends is the right attitude, the proper understanding of the things that go out from the body. From inside, from the heart, which is full of evil and inclined toward all evil by nature, come thoughts, desires, words, actions that defile the man. God looks into the heart. It is not only the actual sin which is culpable in His sight, but the very thoughts are bad, wrong, sinful before Him. And they all live in the heart: adulteries, open disruptions of the marriage-rights; thefts, the unlawful desire and gain of the neighbor's goods; murders, any thoughts or acts that make the neighbor's life unpleasant or destroy it; fornications, actual severing of the marriage-tie; covetousnesses, striving after goods that belong to the neighbor by God's gift or permission; wickednesses, all forms of evil dispositions; fraud, by which people try to get the best of their neighbor; debauchery, in which men serve their own bodies in a manner unbecoming Christians and human beings; an evil eye, jealousy, which begrudges the other person everything good; blasphemy, by which God is mocked and all that is holy is defiled; presumption, the lifting of one's self above the neighbor; lack of knowledge, moral foolishness. The seed, the germ of all these sins, lies in the heart of every man by nature, only awaiting the occasion when it will come forth and work havoc. These are the things that defile a person, but not any form of the so-called Levitical or ceremonial uncleanness. A Christian has need to watch over his heart unceasingly, lest any of these evil seeds sprout and grow beyond all control.
The Syrophenician Woman. Mark 7, 24-30.
A journey to the North: V. 24. And from thence He arose and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon, and entered into an house, and would have no man know it. But He could not be hid; V. 25. for a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of Him, and came and fell at His feet. V. 26. The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought Him that He would cast forth the devil out of her daughter. Since it was apparently impossible to find rest and leisure for connected teaching in the neighborhood of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus arose from there, from the city, Capernaum, where He had had the encounter with the Pharisees. There came a period of wandering far from the usual haunts, of going away with the intention of staying away for some time. Cp. 10, 1. He proceeded into the neighborhood, into the region of Tyre, into the country between Tyre and Sidon. Although the former country of Phoenicia, since the conquest by Pompey, belonged to Syria, there was little intercourse between this country and Palestine and little love lost between their inhabitants. Into this country Jesus went with His disciples, not for the purpose of carrying on the labors of His ministry, but to gain time for the necessary intercourse with His disciples, since their theological training was far from complete, as the recent incident showed. He wanted to remain unknown in this distant region... But it was impossible for Him to carry out His program as planned, for His fame had preceded Him, probably by means of the people that had gone down to see Him during His Galilean tour, chapter 3, 8. There was also a caravan road from Galilee, and the news concerning the Galilean Prophet might easily have traveled along with the merchants. He could not remain hidden, though He entered and perhaps stayed for awhile in a house of that region. Very soon a woman heard of His presence in the neighborhood who had great need of His help. Though she was a Greek, a Syrophenician by race, she had become acquainted with the hopes and expectations of the Jews, and for her own person had come to the conclusion that this man was the Lord, the Messiah, that had been promised to the Jewish people. Now her young daughter had an unclean, an evil spirit, she was a demoniac, and her mother determined to appeal to Christ for help. To be sure of the identity of Jesus as the true Helper in every trouble, to trust in His willingness to help, and to ask assistance and the fulfillment of every need from Him alone, that is the essence of faithful trust. She came to Jesus, she fell down at His feet in the attitude of worshipful appeal; she pleaded with Him to have sympathy with her and her small daughter, to heal the child of her terrible affliction.
The victory of faith: V. 27. But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled; for it is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it unto the dogs. V. 28. And she answered and said unto Him, Yes, Lord; yet the dogs under the table eat of the children's crumbs. V. 29. And He said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter. V. 30. And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed. Mark gives the story in a very brief form, merely indicating the battle which the woman fought in proving herself equal to the test of faith which Jesus laid upon her. Christ was not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, Matt. 15, 24; His personal ministry extended no farther, and He frankly told the woman so. Neither could the impatient interference of the disciples induce Him to change His mind, Matt. 15, 21-28. But the woman's method of attacking Christ and taking hold of His own words in her interest won the day for her. When He told her: Let the children have their food first; it isn't a nice thing to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs, she acknowledged and admitted the truth of that saying without reservation. She stood the blow in a splendid manner, as Luther says. She was ready to concede to the Jews the right of being children of God, His chosen nation. But she marked well that Jesus used the word that was usually applied to the privileged house-dogs, that had the right to gather up the crumbs under the table. Upon this word she pounces, to that she clings: Yes, Lord. In spite of the fact that He had apparently rejected her and her petition, though there seemed no ray of hope in His manner nor in His words, she found the one place where He had left an opening: And yet the little house-dogs under the table eat of the crumbs of the children; if Thou thinkest the comparison fits, Lord, I do not question it; rather do I count myself lucky that this word includes a promise for me, the promise to receive the crumbs which the Jews, in the richness of the ministry being done among them, will never miss. Thus did this heathen woman give evidence of a conquering faith, in overcoming Christ with His own arguments. And Jesus, ever delighted over any show of true trust and faith in Him, gladly yields to her request, for the sake of that word of humble trust, of sublime assurance which she hath spoken. Let her therefore go home happy, for the demon had already gone forth out of her daughter. And so she found the situation when she came to her house: the daughter, whom the evil spirit had formerly tormented and torn in the most excruciating manner, now lying quietly on the couch, with no more indication of her former suffering. Her faith had won the victory. We, who have much more definite promises of the Lord regarding our earthly and spiritual welfare, usually do not show even a fraction of the faith exhibited by the Syrophenician woman. It behooves us to be much more instant in prayer and, above all, much more persevering in our appeals to the grace and mercy of God, no matter what gifts we have in mind. We must learn to conquer the Lord with His own words and promises, then true happiness will be ours both here and hereafter.
Healing of the Deaf-and-Dumb. Mark 7, 31-37.
The return to Palestine: V. 31. And again, departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, He came unto the Sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis. V. 32. And they bring unto Him one that was deaf and had an impediment in His speech; and they beseech Him to put His hand upon him. The story of this healing is one peculiar to the gospel of Mark. After His sojourn in Syrophenicia, in the region between Tyre and Sidon, Jesus did not take the direct route back to Galilee. It seems, from all accounts, that He went through the borders of Coele-Syria and Upper Galilee, perhaps along the river Leontes, and then came down from the neighborhood of Caesarea-Philippi through Gaulanitis into the region of the Decapolis. Concerning this journey of the Lord, which was perhaps the longest single journey which He made, we know nothing, since none of the evangelists or apostles give accounts of it. But we are undoubtedly not far wrong in saying that He employed the time in instructing His apostles in things which were so necessary for them in their divine calling. It was after Christ's return into the neighborhood of the Sea of Galilee, in the region where, not so very long before, He had healed the demoniac, that they, his relatives or friends, brought to Him a man that was deaf and had a bad impediment in his speech. He may have been able to make sounds and even indicate his wishes to people that watched him closely, but he could not articulate, his tongue was unable to form the words. It was a severe ailment, in which the extent of Satan's power is evident. "For that this poor man is hurt in this manner that he can use neither tongue nor ears, like other people, those are blows and thrusts of the accursed devil. Before the world it may seem, and everyone be of the opinion, that they be natural ailments; for the world does not know the devil that he does so much harm, makes the people mad arid foolish, inflicts all manner of misfortune upon them, not only in the body, but also in the soul, that they die for terror and sorrow and cannot attain to true joy. But we Christians should deem such defects and infirmities nothing else but blows of the devil; he causes such distress on earth and does damage wherever he call." 28)
The healing: V. 33. And He took him aside from the multitude, and put His: fingers into his ears, and He spit, and touched his tongue; V. 34. and looking up to heaven, He sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. V. 35. And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain. V. 36. And He charged them that they should tell no man; but the more He charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it; V. 37. and were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: He maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak. Mark gives a very circumstantial account of the healing, relating every detail, to let the healing sympathy and power of the Lord stand out all the more beautifully. For reasons which are not divulged, Jesus withdrew the sick man from the crowd. Due to his malady, the poor man was cut off almost entirely from communication with his fellow-men and had to be taken by the hand. This act of Jesus, whom the man could see, served to awaken his attention, to make him mark closely all that Jesus did with him, for only through signs could Jesus communicate with him. The Lord then put one finger of His right hand into one of the man's ears, and one of the left hand into the other. The deafness was the most deep-seated evil; by touching the atrophied organs, the Lord transmitted to them His healing power. He next moistened His finger at His mouth and touched the tongue of the sick man. The tongue and the inner ears were the diseased organs. "He refers especially to these two members, ears and tongue; for the kingdom of Christ is based upon the Word, which cannot otherwise be grasped or understood but through these two members, ears and tongue, and it reigns only through the Word and faith in the hearts of men. The ears take hold of the Word, and the heart believes it; but the tongue speaks and confesses, as the heart believes. Therefore if the tongue and the ears are removed, there is no noticeable difference between the kingdom of Christ and the world....With us, thanks to God, the tongue has gotten so far that we speak plainly, for there are everywhere pious people that hear the Word of God with desire. But aside from this there is also great ingratitude and terrible contempt for the Word of God, yea, secret persecution and secret suffering.... That is an indication that the Word of God is despised and that people are secretly hostile to it; as we see that things usually go: where the Word is openly persecuted, there it insists on being; but where it is free and in open use, there people do not want it." 29) After these preparatory acts Jesus looked up to heaven and sighed. He felt the deepest sympathy for the unfortunate sufferer; His miracles never degenerated into a mere business. Incidentally, we see that the works of healing meant a great mental strain for Christ. And at last He spoke the Aramaic word: Ephphatha, which Mark translates for his readers: Be opened. The result: The hearings, the instruments of hearing, the ears, were opened, were put into commission again, and the fetters that bound his tongue were loosed; whereas he could formerly merely make sounds, he could now articulate distinctly and speak plainly. "The phrase used by Mark is one often used, in the magical texts, and shows that the writer of the gospel supposed that in this miracle demoniac fetters were broken and a work of Satan undone." 30)
Here also the sequel was much as in other cases: Jesus impressed upon them that they should not tell of the miracle. He did not want to be drawn into another ministry of healing. But they did just the opposite: so much the more, a great deal (double comparative), superabundantly, they proclaimed the miracle. For beyond all description they were astonished, in the highest degree they were overwhelmed, saying: Well has He made everything. It seems that they had not only this miracle in mind, but the former one as well, which by Christ's own arrangement had been published so widely. "Therefore let us remember, and take heed of, this miracle, and follow the example of the pious people that praise Christ the Lord here that He had made all things well, that He makes the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak. This He does, as stated before, forever within the Christian Church, by means of the Sacraments and through the public Word, that the ears of the deaf are opened, and that the dumb are made to speak. Through these means, and through nothing else, the Holy Spirit wants to perform His work in us. Mark that well and cling to it with greater diligence; for that is the nearest and surest way that our ears may be opened and our tongues loosed, and we be saved. May our dear Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, grant us this! " 31)
Summary. Jesus answers an attack of the Pharisees concerning ceremonial washing, denounces them for their disregard of the Word of God, explains moral cleanness, heals the daughter of the Syrophenician woman, and opens the ears of the deaf-mute.