Monday, January 22, 2007

Mark 7, layer 1

This chapter begins with some discussion of ritual cleanliness. Jesus makes the radical assertion that all pollution arises from the heart. The implication is that the dietary laws, which place a heavy burden especially on the homemaker, are irrelevant.But rather than engage in that frontal assault, He harshly criticizes the Pharisees over their observance of the ritual washing of hands, a tradition but not a part of Mosaic Law.

Jesus points out that the Pharisees hold it acceptable for a man to devote his charity to the Temple and withhold it from his parents. Indeed, they prevent him from aiding his parents if he tells them that he is devoting his help to them as a gift to God. But in placing sacrifices to the Temple above caring for his parents, he has violated the more important parts of the Law.

The parable of the Syrophoenician woman is one of the oddest of the gospels. She comes to Jesus, prostrates herself before Him, and begs Him to cast a demon out of her daughter. He gives her a contemptuous response, to the effect that the Jews are God's children, and she is a dog. She captures the sense of God's grandeur by presenting the miracle of exorcism as merely a crumb that falls from the table. Jesus does not go to her house, but tells her that the demon is gone.

In the second miracle of the chapter, Jesus spits, touches the tongue of a deaf mute and, looking to heaven, sighs and commands "Be opened." The deaf mute can now hear and speak. Trying to do the miracle in reverse, Jesus tells the crowd to keep silence, but this He cannot achieve. They spread word of this miracle everywhere.

1. The practical consequences of denying the importance of cleanliness were not good. Western Europe lagged in sanitation, and even today many Christians are careless about passing illnesses around in the mistaken notion that bacteria and viruses are trumped by pleasant thoughts. This is an example of a teaching that illustrates Jesus's humanness and its inherent limitation.

2. In scolding the Pharisees for not understanding the scriptures, Jesus quotes an excellent chapter of Isaiah, chapter 29.

3. The place where Jesus speaks to the Pharisees and teachers of the law is not specified. However, the site for the first of the two miracles is specified as Tyre and the second as Decapolis (though manuscripts vary).


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