Sunday, June 14, 2015
Mitch Reads... Mark 7
Okay, so it looks like some Pharisees and scribes have come up all the way from Jerusalem just to listen to Jesus talk. However, they seem more distracted by his disciples' filthy, filthy hands. They notice that Jesus' entourage eats with defiled hands. That is, they eat without washing their hands. They have poo-poo hands! Then Mark makes a quick aside explaining Jewish cleanliness rituals and traditions, indicating that Mark may be targeting this gospel, at least in part, to a non-Jewish audience.
Anyway, Jesus goes off on the Pharisees, saying they've disregarded God's law in favor of their own human laws and traditions. Then he goes on a tangent about Corban, which sounds like an awesome word. But what it entails, apparently, is this: part of the commandment to honor thy father and mother is to help support them when they grow old. Apparently, though, religious leaders had been urging the populace to declare such support as Corban, an Aramaic word meaning "offering," and giving what would have supported their elderly parents to the Temple instead. I guess it would be akin to, rather than financially assisting your retired parents, you give that money to a corrupt televangelist instead. Heh, corrupt televangelist. That's kind of redundant.
No, no, Mitch, come on, tell us what you really think!
Anyway, after that tangential example, Jesus returns to the matter of unclean hands and unclean food. He says there is nothing outside of a person that can defile him or her. Defilement only comes from within.
Jesus and his disciples leave the crowd and enter the house. What house? Where are they this time? Chapter six ended with them wandering the villages, cities, and farms. Did they swing back to Capernaum? Are they finally going to fix that dang roof?
Back in the house, whichever house it was, the disciples ask Jesus about what he was talking about, because they did not understand. Jesus is probably getting a little annoyed with having to explain everything he teaches, but he might not have that problem if he didn't talk in riddles all the time. The disciples probably feel like The Riddler's henchmen at this point.
Jesus explains that what you eat doesn't defile you, because it doesn't go into your heart, but in your stomach. And from there it just goes into the sewer. He means poop. You poop out what you eat. Jesus is talking about poop, here. Are we clear on that? This is the part of the Bible where Jesus comments on your bowel movements. The commentary in my NRSV calls it "a touch of earthy humor." It's scatological humor. Martin Luther would be proud.
But it is what comes from the heart that all the evils of humankind originate. Those are what defile a person, not the food they eat. Also, Mark includes a brief note that Jesus thus "declared all foods clean." That might be a bit of a jump there, Mark, but it is certainly the trajectory Jesus is heading. Mark probably just wants to eat some shrimp. Or bacon. Or bacon wrapped shrimp. That sounds delicious. Mark, you are a genius!
They then venture to the region of Tyre and hide in a house. Whose house? Run's house! I actually don't know whose house. Nevermind. But Jesus doesn't want anyone to know he's there, but these pesky people find him. A gentile woman finds him, bows at his feet, and begs him to exorcise an unclean spirit from her daughter. Jesus responds by refusing and calling her a dog.
Well, he does this with a metaphor, but still. I know most people try to soften this exchange. "Jesus didn't really call her a dog, what he meant was..." What Jesus meant was that his main priority is Israel, or Judah, or the Jewish people, whatever you want to call them. He is the Jewish messiah after all. Israel is his child, and it's not right to take his gifts to his child, gifts of healings and miracles, and throw them to the dogs, that is, the gentiles. So, yeah, he calls her a dog because she is a gentile.
Or maybe she was a werewolf. Anyway.
But that's not the important part of this story! What's important is that the woman counters and pleads that even the dogs get the crumbs that fall off the table. And it works! Jesus changes his mind and says her daughter is free of the demon. The woman persuades Jesus to help her even though he initially didn't want to. This woman argues with God and won.
This is also another indication that Jesus' work extended to the gentiles as well, which, again, may have been part of Mark's targeted audience.
After the dog woman (who argued with God and won!), the entourage goes to the Decapolis region. There, Jesus encounters a deaf man who also had trouble speaking. Jesus takes the man in private, sticks his fingers in the man's ears, and spits and touches his tongue. This is getting really awkward, Jesus. He looks up at heaven, lets out a sigh (seriously), and tells the ears and tongue to be open. Immediately the man can hear and he can speak clearly. Jesus orders everyone to keep this a secret, but of course no one listens and word about it spreads everywhere. Sometimes it's just hard for a guy to keep a Messianic Secret.
Thus ends the Seventh Chapter of Mark.