Mark 7

The Word Made Fresh

1Some Pharisees and scribes came from Jerusalem and gathered around Jesus. 2They noticed that some of his disciples were eating without washing their hands. 3The Pharisees, indeed all the Jews, pour water over their hands before eating. This is how they keep the traditions of the elders. 4They also don’t eat anything purchased at the market before washing it. They observe many other traditions as well – washing cups and pots and kettles, for example. 5So, the Pharisees and scribes asked Jesus, “Why do your disciples neglect the traditions of the elders by eating without first washing their hands?”

6Jesus answered, “Isaiah’s prophesy concerning you hypocrites was correct; it is written, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but not their hearts. 7They worship me in vain because they teach their own ideas as doctrines, but they are not my doctrines.’ 8You ignore God’s commandments and follow your own human traditions.”

9Then he told them, “You have your own rules that enable you to reject God’s commandments to keep your own ways. 10Moses tells us, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘whoever speaks evil of their father or mother must be put to death.’ 11But you say that anyone can announce to their father or mother, ‘Whatever income you thought you might have from me has been given as an offering to God,’ 12and then you refuse to do anything for your father or mother. 13In this way you override the word of God through your traditions. You do many such things as this.”

14Then he said to the crowds, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15there is nothing outside you that by entering can defile you. It is the things that come out of you that defile. 16Let all those who have ears to hear, listen!”

17Later, when he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18He said to them, “You don’t understand, either? Don’t you see that whatever enters you from outside cannot make you ritually unclean, 19because it doesn’t enter the heart, but only the belly, and then it passes on through?” In saying this, he declared that all foods are ‘clean.’ 20He continued, “What comes out of a person is what makes you unclean. 21It is from the heart that evil intentions come – sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23All these are wicked things that come from within, and corrupt a person.”

24Jesus left there and headed toward the area around Tyre and Sidon. He entered a house, but didn’t want anyone to know that he was there. Even so, he couldn’t escape being seen. 25A woman who had a little daughter that was possessed by a demon heard about Jesus, and she came to him and knelt at his feet. 26She was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician. She begged Jesus to free her daughter from the demon.

27Jesus responded, “The children must be served first. It wouldn’t be fair to take their food and throw it to the dogs.”

28She replied, “But even the dogs under the table eat the crumbs the children drop.”

29“Because you said that, you may go,” Jesus said. “The demon has left your daughter.” 30She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone from her.

31Then Jesus returned from the area around Tyre, and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, the area near the Decapolis. 32He was brought a deaf man who couldn’t speak clearly, and they begged him to lay a hand on the man. 33Jesus drew the man aside, away from the crowd, and put his fingers in the man’s ears, then spat and touched the man’s tongue. 34Then he looked up to the heavens and sighed and said to the man, “Ephphatha!” that is, “Open!” 35Right away the man’s ears were opened, and his tongue was released, and he could speak clearly.

36Then Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about this, but the more he told them not to tell about it, the more zealously they spread the news. 37They were utterly astounded, and said, “He has done everything well – he even makes the deaf hear again, and the mute can speak!”


1-13: Another confrontation with the Pharisees is described. They have come from Jerusalem, and Mark gives the impression that Jesus is the reason they have come. They find fault with his disciples for not following proper rituals for eating. Jesus responds by attacking them for placing their traditions on equal footing with the law, and accuses them of inventing loopholes to get around the law. The example he uses has to do with the obligation accorded one’s parents. Rather than provide support for one’s parents, their tradition allowed them to claim that the support they gave the temple, or the synagogue, was the support due their parents.

14-23: Finally answering their specific complaint about the disciples not washing their hands, Jesus points out that food does not contaminate a person’s character, but a person’s character can contaminate his or her life. Note that the disciples continue to demonstrate a rather appalling lack of understanding.

24-30: So, Mark tells the story of how Jesus goes into foreign territory where he is confronted by a Syrophoenician woman who has more faith than the people in Jesus’ home town, the Pharisees from Jerusalem, or his own disciples. The lesson is that, instead of questioning who Jesus is and what authority he has, we should simply believe and receive the blessings he wishes to bestow.

31-37: This story is peculiar to Mark’s gospel. The location is impossible to pinpoint because the route Jesus takes has him approaching the Sea of Galilee from the northwest, and the region of the Decapolis is to the southeast of the sea. This is the only account of a deaf person being healed in the gospels, although Matthew mentions that such miracles are taking place (Matthew 11:5). We also note that Isaiah prophesied that “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped … and the tongue of the speechless will sing for joy” (Isaiah 35:5-6) as signs that a new age has come. You may notice that the healings seem to be getting more involved in terms of the actions Jesus takes to form the cure — look ahead to the next healing story in 8:22-26. Again, Jesus attempts to silence the acclaim, again to no avail. Perhaps he is trying to stay under the radar of Herod and the religious authorities.


I can’t read these stories without hearing in my head the words of an old hymn: ‘earth hath no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.’