LINK: Mark 7
The Pharisees, a powerful sect of the Jews, are upset because Jesus' disciples didn't wash their hands in the way that oral tradition prescribed. It isn't that the disciples were dirty or unhygienic. It is that they didn't practice what the Pharisees taught. The Pharisees had come up with many rituals; rituals not given by God, but invented by man. The disciples weren't following the prescribed washing rituals.
So the Pharisees ask Jesus about that. Jesus' forceful response indicates that the Pharisees don't really want to know why, but that they are criticizing and finding fault.
Jesus' answer makes clear what matters. He quotes from Isaiah, a prophet they revere, to point out their hypocrisy. Jesus even says that Isaiah was prophesying about them! The Pharisees are neglecting to do what God says, and instead are focusing on keeping the extraneous traditions that men had invented. The focus of their hearts has shifted from God to man. Jesus points out to them (and to us!) that it is what comes out of us that defiles us, not what is outside us. It's all about motive.
Two miracles complete this chapter. We see the great faith of a woman who is not a Jew, and who wants Jesus to heal her daughter. I can't help but contrast her attitude with that of the Pharisees. The chapter closes with the healing of the deaf man, something that causes great amazement among the Jews.
This is a convicting and powerful portion of Scripture. Jesus lambastes the Pharisees, calling them hypocrites. Why? They claim to love God and follow Him, and in fact, they made up extra rules for following God which they have kept scrupulously. They keep the ones they made up better than the ones God gave! They forget that it isn't what is outside us that makes us sinners, but what is inside, in our hearts, and is revealed through our actions and words. They are hypocrites because they claim to love God when they don't. They are hypocrites because they care more for outward appearance than inner truth.
Look at the difference between the Pharisees and the Syrophoenecian woman who heard about Jesus and came to Him (vv 24-30). The Pharisees were all about what others thought of them. They thought they could gain favor with God by adding more external rules. They thought they were pretty good, because they were able to live by those doctrines they made up. In doing so, however, they neglected to focus on what God said was important. They weren't doing what they did because they loved God - their hearts were far from Him. They didn't really think that they had a need. They were doing what they did because they wanted to look good.
The Gentile woman comes to Jesus and asks Him to cast a demon from her daughter. She comes and falls at Jesus' feet when she asks. And she keeps asking - persistently. Jesus at first responds to her by saying that the "children" (meaning the Jews) should be satisfied first - that it wasn't good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs (comparing her to the dog). She responds, not angrily, but with humility. "Yes, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children's crumbs!" She knew her need. Her words reveal her heart. She doesn't care what anyone thinks of her - she has a need and she knows it and she is focused on Jesus. Jesus hears her and heals her daughter.
Can you imagine what a person full of pride (like a Pharisee) would have answered? Hypocrisy would take offense: "How could He speak to me that way? I deserve better than that!" I am wondering how I would have responded myself. Would I have been offended by Jesus' words? Would I have gone off in a huff because Jesus compared me to a dog?
We frequently think of the Pharisees as legalists (which they were) and forget that the root that Jesus dug at was pride. Pride reveals itself in all sorts of ways, though. Anytime I am more focused on what man thinks of me, on how I look to others, on myself, than I am on humbly seeking the LORD, then I am exhibiting pride.
It is not the externals that defile us. Look at the list that Jesus gave: "evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness." All those things come from within us - from our hearts.
The Pharisees, in their pride and self-deceit, were fools. The Gentile woman, persistently seeking Jesus in humility, was wise.
I hope you will take time, with me, to examine your own heart and life in the light of this passage. Do you care more what others think of you than you do your need of the LORD Jesus? Do you think that you bring something of value to Him? Think again.
Help us to love you from our hearts, LORD. Keep us from the deceit of pleasing other people rather than you. Keep us from the self-deceit that we can can please you without yielding our hearts. Help us to come to you in humility, like the Gentile woman in this chapter - not caring how we look or what people might say about us.