Jesus announces the relaxation of Mosaic dietary requirements and states what truly defiles a person. He denounces manmade rituals. We will also see the King James Version verse missing from some modern translations: it is such a famous saying that you may be surprised.
Today’s readings come from the English Standard Version (ESV) with one verse from the King James Version (KJV).
9And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”‘ (that is, given to God)— 12then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
16If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.
17And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him.”
The Syrophoenician Woman’s Faith
24And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. 25But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” 30And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.
This chapter begins with Jesus’s debating dietary and hygiene laws with the Pharisees and some of the Scribes. One of their laws was to wash their hands before eating. They were horrified when they saw the disciples eating bread without having done this. Although the tradition of washing prior to eating was not strictly mandatory, the Pharisees instructed the people in such a way that it became obligatory. Jesus says that what matters is not the ostentatious, outward acts in and of themselves which please God — ceremonial lip service — but the love we have for Him deep inside ourselves.
Jesus criticises the Scribes and Pharisees present for imposing manmade traditions on the Jews. He tells them they are doing it only for their own prideful sense of power over the people. Yes, of course, the people were bound by Mosaic Law to cleanse themselves, but these men were attempting to add to Scripture. The Bible instructs us not to add to — or, for that matter, take away from — Scripture for a reason. Bible commentator Matthew Henry explains:
Superstition is an endless thing. If one human invention and institution be admitted, though seemingly ever so innocent, as this of washing hands, behold, a troop comes, a door is opened for many other such things.
Jesus criticises them for instructing the Jews to obey manmade laws and traditions instead of obeying the 10 Commandments, which God handed down to Moses. Somehow, obeying the Commandments is less important to the priests, possibly because they are driven by pride and ego instead of by a love of God. Jesus points out to them that they distorted the Commandment of honouring one’s father and one’s mother. According to the Pharisees, if a child did not wish to obey that Commandment, he had a get-out clause (verses 9-10). The child could swear by the gold of the temple and the gift upon the altar — the Corban — that he washed his hands of his parents (verse 11). Should his parents ask anything of him, all he had to do is say that he made his oath (verses 12 and 13). Jesus says that is not the only false tradition the Pharisees have added, however, He does not elaborate on the others here.
I often wonder with some of these verses whether they are excluded from the Lectionary because they might reflect poorly on the Catholic Church. There appears to be common agreement amongst the Catholics and mainline Protestants as to what verses will be read. However, imagine a thinking Catholic hearing those verses — they do not have Bibles in their pews — and asking, ‘Am I doing the wrong thing by following manmade traditions?’ Just a thought.
The next verse (Mark 7:16) is in the KJV and the new KJV (NKJV). You have all heard or read it: ‘If any man have ears to hear, let him hear’. Jesus says this after he abolishes the dietary laws. Note that, whereas before he spoke only to the Pharisees and assembled Scribes, now he addresses the public as well. He tells the crowd that nothing that enters man is defiled. It is what comes out of a man that defiles him. So, all of the things God has provided us to eat and drink are good; but we must watch what we do and say in order not to pollute our character and soul. In verse 16, Jesus emphasises this point; we are not only to listen to what He has to say here but understand the full implications.
This is something we forget today. We have so many secular instructions on what we can eat and partake of — food and alcohol — yet, Jesus is saying that it doesn’t matter what we put into our mouths. It’s how we lead our lives that’s important. You can adhere to all the legalism you like and yet not be a good person. There is a fad for vegetarianism amongst Christians and amongst secularists as a whole for ‘healthy eating’ where certain things are proscribed. But have those people ever examined themselves to see what types of lives they lead? Are they gossips, bullies, slanderers? Do they cheat others? Do they lie? Are they overcome by envy and greed? It doesn’t matter what you eat or drink. What matters is that you lead a godly life. Your diet ain’t gonna save you.
In the intervening verses (17-23), Jesus and His disciples leave the crowd. Jesus wants to make sure they have understood what He has just said. Again, He declares dietary laws abolished (verses 18-23). He combines the 10 Commandments with what we know as the Seven Deadly Sins (emphasis mine). Let’s read those verses again:
18And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
Verses 24-30 relate a short and beautiful story of Jesus’s casting out a demon out from a little girl. Jesus has left His disciples and goes to a Gentile region along the borders of Tyre and Sidon. This is not a region where He would hope to gain many converts. The people there either do not know of Him or, if they do, they have never seen Him. He arrives there as He intends — quietly with no fanfare — yet, immediately, a woman recognises Him. This is what verse 24 means by ‘He could not be hidden’. She humbles herself before His feet. Think of it — she has never seen Him before but instinctively knows who He is and falls to the ground before Him (verse 25). She doesn’t grab Him by the hand or touch His cloak. She also begs Him to cast out the demon from her daughter (verse 26).
Verse 27 may appear puzzling. What Jesus is doing is testing this Gentile’s faith. His first obligation is to the Jews (‘children’), not to the heathens (‘dogs’). (A similar reference is Matt. 7:6.) The children must be fed at table first, with dogs picking up whatever is left. Yet, Jesus knew that some Jews, having absorbed so many of His teachings, were already rejecting Him. Matthew Henry says they were like well-fed children who played with their food. Therefore, it was time to share this meal — the Good News — with unbelievers. The lady agrees with what Jesus says. She is aware of her Gentile status. In verse 28 she replies, ‘Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Note that she does not say, ‘Give me what’s mine — I’m just as entitled as the Jews’ but instead asks for ‘crumbs’. She is a humble supplicant begging for mercy and help in her dire situation.
Jesus recognises her faith (verse 29) and tells her that she may go as the demon has left her child. Verse 30 concludes with her returning home and seeing her daughter resting peacefully.
These verses have much to say about the way we live today. Jesus puts the damper on all our cravings for health and entitlement. I do wonder what reaction He would get if He ever replayed these verses in our town and city centres today. Food for thought.
For further reading: