The Book of Mark
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 defiled, 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 defiled 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 merely human rules.’
You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
And he continued, “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 mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— then you no longer let them do anything for their 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 person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”
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 person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)
He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 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. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
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 impure 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 the dogs.”
“Lord,” she replied, “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 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 Jesus to place his hand on him.
After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit 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.”
There are clear benefits to washing and having clean hands when eating. The Pharisees’ problem was making cleanliness of body the same as cleanliness of spirit. They then replaced the commandments of God with their own traditions; something that Jesus points out makes them hypocrites. For us today, washing before eating is highly recommended. But much more important is to be clean in our hearts, and doing away with all evil that is within us.
When the Syrophoenician woman implored Jesus to heal her daughter, she may not have expected him to turn her down. In fact, we don’t see many people have to plead their case with Jesus. He simply heals them after they make their request (and in the case of the woman with the hemorrhage in chapter 5 who touched the hem of his garment, she didn’t even make a request). This woman showed great faith and humility in her answer to Jesus, and her daughter is healed.
The healing of the deaf man with a speech impediment seems to have been more difficult than most. There are a number of small details (taking the man away from the crowd, touching the ears and tongue) that culminate with verse 34; “He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”).” One possible reason is that a speech impediment involves something different than physical healing or exorcism; it goes into the speech center of the brain. With this healing, Jesus’ powers are shown to be without limit. He is the true Lord of all creation who can heal body, mind and spirit.
Questions to ponder:
- Was there more to Jesus’ treatment of the woman in verse 27? Is it possible that he was testing her?
- When Jesus touched the man’s ears and spit and touched the man’s tongue, was it symbolic or was it necessary in order for the healing to take place?