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A Follower’s Anatomy - Mark 7:1-8:26

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What thoughts enter your mind when you hear the words, “Complete Physical Examination?” What feelings does the phrase evoke? I recently read some comical doctors’ notes taken from actual physical exam reports, though reading them may make you question the wisdom of visiting your local family doctor for that overdue, looming check-up:

  • Patient has chest pain if she lies on her left side for over a year.
  • The patient is tearful and crying constantly. She also appears to be depressed.
  • The patient has been depressed since she began seeing me in 1993.
  • Healthy-appearing decrepit 69-year-old male, mentally alert but forgetful.
  • The patient refused an autopsy.
  • Patient’s medical history has been remarkably insignificant with only a 40 pound weight gain in the past three days.
  • She is numb from her toes down.
  • Occasional, constant infrequent headaches.
  • Patient was alert and unresponsive.
  • Patient has two teenage children, but no other abnormalities.

We commonly associate the complete physical examination with the decades of our life, beginning at age thirty. Every ten years we are due to undergo that intense scrutiny that few look forward to. I have a friend who is about to turn forty and is simply dreading his impending trip to the doctor. Some are afraid of the physical exam because they fear the doctor will discover something bad that will require some change in lifestyle. Others reluctantly submit to the exam—whether afraid of them or not—but completely ignore the doctor’s suggestion of a life-change. We like our life the way it is, after all. We don’t want to change our diet—we like to eat all things at all times. We don’t want to exercise—it’s hard work. We don’t want to begin popping that regulatory pill—it’s a daily admission that I’m no longer twenty and physically fit. We don’t want to submit ourselves to that medical procedure (the most frightening words to a middle-aged man)—it certainly can’t be comfortable. My friend is admittedly both afraid and unresponsive to instructions. Therefore, this year his wife has decided to go with him and speak with the doctor herself. She wants to find out if he is healthy and, most importantly, make him follow the doctor’s instructions if he is not.

In today’s passage, Jesus will conduct a physical exam on His hearers, especially the disciples. In particular, Jesus is going to test the health of His audiences’ heart, ears, and eyes. Some in Jesus’ audience do not want to be examined. They get squeamish when He administers His exam of these body parts. And some of them don’t respond well to Jesus’ instructions when He discovers unhealthy body parts. They like their life as it is, thank you very much. They want to hear that they are in perfect health, but Jesus has other news for them. Let’s listen in as Jesus the Great Physician administers examinations of the heart, ears, and eyes. But beware; you just might see yourself in this text. . .

Could You Benefit from a Heart Attack? (7:1-23)56

7:1 Now the Pharisees and some of the experts in the law who came from Jerusalem gathered to him. 7:2 And they saw that some of Jesus’ disciples ate their bread with unclean hands, that is, unwashed. 7:3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they perform a ritual washing, holding on to the tradition of the elders. 7:4 And when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. They hold on to many other traditions: the washing of cups, pots, kettles, and dining couches.) 7:5 The Pharisees and the experts in the law asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with unwashed hands?” 7:6 He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied correctly about you hypocrites, as it is written:

‘This people honors me with their lips,

but their heart is far from me.57

7:7 They worship me in vain,

teaching as doctrine the commandments of men.’

7:8 Having no regard for the command of God, you hold on to human tradition.” 7:9 He also said to them, “You neatly reject the commandment of God in order to set up your tradition. 7:10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever insults his father or mother must be put to death.’ 7:11 But you say that if anyone tells his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you would have received from me is corban’ (that is, a gift for God), 7:12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother. 7:13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like this.”58

7:14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand. 7:15 There is nothing outside of a person that can defile him by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles him.”59

7:17 Now when Jesus had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. 7:18 He said to them, “Are you so foolish? Don’t you understand that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him? 7:19 For it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and then goes out into the sewer.” (This means all foods are clean.) 7:20 He said, “What comes out of a person defiles him. 7:21 For from within, out of the human heart, comes evil ideas, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 7:22 adultery, greed, evil, deceit, debauchery, envy, slander, pride, and folly. 7:23 All these evils come from within and defile a person.”

If you read the passage above, then you just witnessed a heart attack. Jesus attacking the hearts of the Pharisees, that is. We often think of heart attacks as sudden, obvious, physical attacks where someone grabs his chest and falls over (thanks again, Hollywood). This is simply not true in the vast majority of heart attacks. Probably this describes a cardiac arrest, which differs from a heart attack.60 A heart attack occurs when an inadequate supply of oxygen-rich blood reaches the heart muscle and damage results. Most heart attacks occur because over a long period of time, fatty materials build up inside the arteries that supply blood to the heart. These arteries are called coronary arteries, and the buildup of fatty material is called coronary artery disease or coronary heart disease. When the buildup prevents adequate supply of blood to reach the heart—presto, you experience the symptoms of a heart attack. Heart attacks usually show gradual symptoms: Pain in the chest area that lasts for more than a couple of minutes, discomfort in neck, stomach, arms, etc. Because of the symptoms, you can usually benefit from a heart attack—but it requires responding appropriately to the symptoms.

The Old Testament only required priests to wash their hands, and only priests serving at the tabernacle (Exodus 30:18-21). Here Jesus is explaining that appearing clean on the outside does not necessarily mean that we are clean on the inside. In the same way that having clean hands does not indicate genuine cleanliness, so also following the rules does not indicate genuine obedience. Jesus teaches that one’s heart is not regulated by behavior; rather, one’s behavior is driven by one’s heart. You and I can appear at times to have it all together. Like the Pharisees, we can give the appearance of purity but remain vulgar on the inside. We, too, can be hypocrites.61 Which is important to you? Do you want people to think you are pure; or is it more important to you that you are pure indeed? The Pharisees were masters of appearance. Are you?

Last year a book that I co-authored was released in the U.S. and Canada. The title of the 265-page book is Zondervan Dictionary of Bible and Theology Words. If you’ve never written a book—especially a dictionary where each part of each definition must be meticulously crafted—let me caution you not to assume the process is terribly pleasurable. Along with the co-author, I spent about 18 months working on this book, at about 15 hours each week. In order to define 1,800 words, we divvied up the words to be defined and set some rather ambitious deadlines. We would each define roughly 60 words in a matter of twenty days. I can remember times when I sat with fifteen references open before me as I attempted to arrive at an accurate, 40-word definition that captured the essential meaning of a term. Some words took up to an hour and a half to satisfactorily define. At the end of the twenty days, we would exchange words and spend an additional ten hours editing one another’s work. Then we would exchange again and edit one another’s edit. You get the picture. By the time we submitted our “final” draft to our publisher, each word had been dragged through six edit cycles. Then the day came not long after we delivered the final draft to our publisher. The marketing-design department sent us two handsome cover jackets to choose from. They had obviously expended much effort, and both designs would do well. After about three hours consulting with one another, and of course with our wives, we decided upon a cover-jacket. Did you hear that ratio? Eighteen months on the contents, and three hours on the cover.

I wonder how many of us live out that ratio in our Christian lives. Instead, how many of us spend the vast majority of our time focusing on our cover, our appearance, our marketability? I’m convinced that we’ve grown into a culture of individuals that want to be judged by their cover! Where are you spending your time? Are you focusing on your contents—your guts, your insides, your heart? Or are you preoccupied with your cover—your appearance, your reputation, your marketability? Perhaps you could benefit from a heart attack.

Closed-Captioned for the Hearing Impaired (7:24-37)62

7:24 After Jesus left there, he went to the region of Tyre. When he went into a house, he did not want anyone to know, but he was not able to escape notice. 7:25 Instead, a woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him and came and fell at his feet. 7:26 The woman was a Greek, of Syrophoenician origin. She asked him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 7:27 He said to her, “Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and to throw it to the dogs.” 7:28 She answered, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 7:29 Then he said to her, “Because you said this, you may go. The demon has left your daughter.” 7:30 She went home and found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.63

7:31 Then Jesus went out again from the region of Tyre and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee in the region of the Decapolis. 7:32 They brought to him a deaf man who had difficulty speaking, and they asked him to place his hands on him. 7:33 After Jesus took him aside privately, away from the crowd, he put his fingers in the man’s ears, and after spitting, he touched his tongue. 7:34 Then he looked up to heaven and said with a sigh, “Ephphatha” (that is, “Be opened”). 7:35 And immediately the man’s ears64 were opened, his tongue loosened, and he spoke plainly. 7:36 Jesus ordered them not to tell anything. But as much as he ordered it, that much more they proclaimed it.65 7:37 People were completely astounded and said, “He has done everything well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

The healing of the deaf-mute occurs only in Mark. Jesus is sensitive to remove this man from public distractions and takes him aside by himself. Jesus touches the man’s ears to indicate to the man that they would be opened; He touches his tongue to indicate that it will work again; and then He looks up to heaven to indicate that God is the one accomplishing this.66

This miracle serves as a visual parable. There is more than a healing to this story. I think Jesus says to you and me—listen! Let your ears be opened. If only our spiritual ears were as tuned as that man’s physical ears from that day forth.

Psychology tells us that there are four types of selective listening: 1) Selective exposure, 2) selective attention, 3) selective understanding, and 4) selective retention. I’m convinced that most of the times Jesus spoke, most of the times you and I open our Bibles, and most of the times you and I listen to a sermon, one or more of these types of selective listening is taking place:

The first type, Selective exposure, is what occurs when you turn the station on your radio and begin listening in the middle of a broadcast. You have not been exposed to the entire program, and thus you only hear part of the conversation. You experience this when you read your Bible by starting in the middle of a particular context and thus fail to be exposed to the overall idea of the passage. You experience this in church when you arrive late and miss the beginning of the sermon or when you go to the restroom or to check on your child in the nursery in the middle of the pastor’s second point.

The second type, selective attention, is when you zone out while listening to a radio program. You are exposed to the entire program, but you’re distracted through parts of it. It happens when you read your Bible, but your eyes gloss over the words without engaging your mind. You give selective attention on Sunday morning when you are distracted from the sermon by the overweight lady sleeping in the next row, doodling on the bulletin, or daydreaming.

The third type, selective understanding, occurs when you correctly process only some of the information you’re exposed to. Psychology has proven that we all at times deliberately misinterpret certain data in order to make it fit our own liking, although we do so unconsciously. This happens when you sing along with the radio while filling in the unknown lyrics with familiar phrases they sound like. It is misinterpreting the strong teachings of the Bible or a sermon to endorse your actions, but to condemn the behavior of the person sitting next to you.

Finally, the one most of us are perhaps guilty of, selective retention. This happens when you’ve listened to and understood all of the radio program, the Scripture passage, or the sermon, but you live tomorrow as though you weren’t even exposed to it today.

Which of these types of selective listening are you most often guilty of? Perhaps you require Jesus’ healing hand to touch your ears and make them listen more effectively.

Objects Are Closer Than They Appear (8:1-26)

8:1 In those days there was another large crowd with nothing to eat. So Jesus called his disciples and said to them, 8:2 “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have already been here with me three days, and they have nothing to eat. 8:3 If I send them home hungry, they will faint on the way, and some of them have come from a great distance.” 8:4 His disciples answered him, “Where can someone get enough bread in this desolate place to satisfy these people?” 8:5 He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They replied, “Seven.” 8:6 Then he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. After he took the seven loaves and gave thanks, he broke them and began giving them to the disciples to serve. So they served the crowd. 8:7 They also had a few small fish. After giving thanks for these, he told them to serve these as well. 8:8 Everyone ate and was satisfied, and they picked up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 8:9 There were about four thousand who ate.67 Then he dismissed them. 8:10 Immediately he got into a boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.

8:11 Then the Pharisees came and began to argue with Jesus, asking for a sign from heaven to test him. 8:12 Sighing deeply in his spirit he said, “Why does this generation look for a sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to this generation.” 8:13 Then he left them, got back into the boat, and went to the other side.

8:14 Now they had forgotten to take bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. 8:15 And Jesus gave them orders, saying, “Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod!” 8:16 So they began to discuss with one another about having no bread. 8:17 When he learned of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you arguing about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Have your hearts been hardened? 8:18 Though you have eyes, don’t you see? And though you have ears, can’t you hear? Don’t you remember? 8:19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of pieces did you pick up?” They said, “Twelve.” 8:20 “When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many baskets full of pieces did you pick up?” They said, “Seven.” 8:21 Then he said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

8:22 Then they came to Bethsaida. They brought Jesus a blind man and asked him to touch him. 8:23 He took the blind man by the hand and brought him outside of the village. Then he spit on his eyes, placed his hands on his eyes and asked, “Do you see anything?” 8:24 Regaining his sight he said, “I see people, but they look like trees walking.” 8:25 Then Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes again; then he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.68 8:26 Jesus sent him home, saying, “Do not even go into the village.”

The healing of the blind man here and the deaf-mute in chapter seven are the only two miracles that appear only in Mark’s Gospel. Also, this healing of the blind man is the only two-stage miracle that Jesus performs. This entire section is building up to the two-stage healing of the blind man. Why a two-stage healing? Jesus does this deliberately because He is trying to communicate something; He is not merely trying to heal this man. Like the healing of the deaf-mute, this is a visual parable. Sight often represented understanding, and Jesus is depicting the foggy understanding that the disciples had concerning Him. It is performed to depict the denseness of His disciples.

In Mark, only three of Jesus’ miracles are performed before private audiences: Jairus’ daughter, the deaf-mute, and this blind man. However, Jesus was not entirely alone with the blind man, for the man saw “people, but they look like trees walking.” Presumably it was the blurry disciples that the man saw. Perhaps Jesus was trying to let them know what it felt like to only be partially seen (just as the disciples had only partially understood Jesus). Do you have a distorted view of Jesus?

Meditation Verse

We conclude each lesson with one verse from the passage we’ve studied. We refer to it as a “meditation verse” to leave a broad range of uses: meditate, reflect, memorize, reread, etc. Our meditation verse for this lesson is Mark 7:37:

7:37 People were completely astounded and said, “He has done everything well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

56 Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are taken from The NET Bible.

57 Four times in this lesson we will encounter the word καρδία, “heart.” This word occurs eleven times in Mark’s Gospel.

58 What’s Jesus talking about? Mark typically explains words and customs that might not be readily understood by his reader. By introducing the notion of “corban,” Jesus is describing a potential contradiction between the 5th commandment and the traditions of the elders. Should these contradict, which will the Pharisees follow? Corban described something that was dedicated to God. What happens if a person dedicates his resources to God (i.e., the temple), but then his aging parents later need these resources? The Pharisee taught that they could not benefit from them; Jesus taught that something could be used by the parents and still be “dedicated to God.” More than 67% of parents recently interviewed believe that children have no obligation to parents regardless of what their parents have done for them.

59 Mark 7:16 is missing from many of your Bibles for good reason. Simply put, the earliest and best manuscripts omit the verse, and there are better reasons to believe that a well-meaning scribe inserted the verse deliberately than that he omitted it unintentionally.

60 The best distinction I’ve heard between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest is that while a heart attack is a plumbing problem, cardiac arrest is an electrical problem. During cardiac arrest, the electricity that reminds the heart to beat malfunctions and ultimately causes the heart to stop beating.

61 In Mark 7:6, Jesus cites Isaiah 29:13 when He calls the Pharisees “ὑποκριτήσ”—hypocrites.

62 A closed-captioned program is a broadcast with captions for those screens with receivers equipped with a decoder, and “closed” to those TV sets that lack a decoder. A caption is a motion-picture subtitle.

63 The healing of the Syrophoenician’s daughter is the only healing in the Gospel of Mark performed from a distance. It is also one of the most misunderstood miracles. The key to understanding the miracle is the emphasis placed on “first” in 7:27, intended to convey priority, not value. In other words, it is the privilege of the children (i.e., the Jews) to eat the bread first. After they eat, then it is appropriate for others to enjoy leftovers. Paul likewise says that the Gospel will go first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles. The Syrophoenician woman is from a particularly affluent class of Greek-speaking Gentiles. Thus the contrast between the children and dogs was one of priority and privilege, not worth. Furthermore, in this context dogs are house pets, not the wild scavenging dogs that were considered unclean to Jews. Jesus is declaring that the Jewish claim to privilege has past; let’s consider others who may wish to come to dine. This story has strong ties to Acts 10:34-35, where Peter acknowledges that the Gentiles are benefactors of the Gospel alongside the Jews. Implication: The food has been offered to the children and they have refused it; it now goes to the hungry awaiting their turn!

64 In Mark 7:35, the ear is called ἀκοή, from which we get acoustic.

65 Like blowing on hot embers only makes the fire burn hotter, Jesus hushes the crowds and they only speak about Him more.

66 Many thanks to my friend, Doug Fischer (a man full of wisdom and the Holy Spirit), for pointing out these details.

67 Some have made the accusation that the feeding of the 5,000 was the same event as the feeding of the 4,000. But when the two stories occur only two chapters apart in a book by one author—we have to give the author the benefit of the doubt that he is not reporting contradictory accounts of the same event. Plus, Jesus mentions both feedings in his rebuke of the disciples. Notice that the reason for Jesus’ compassion differs in the two accounts. The type of basket described in the feeding of the 4,000 is actually larger than that of the feeding of the 5,000.

68 Four times in 8:1-26 the word “see” appears, (e.g., “watch out” for the leaven of the Pharisees). The word for eye in Greek is ὀφθαλμόσ, from which we get ophthalmology.