As you read the book of Mark, it is fair to ask, “What does this section say about being a true disciple?” After all, as I wrote in my Jumpstart on chapter 1 of Mark, this book is all about “the way of discipleship.”
Today as we open up chapter 7, we see Mark weaving two stories together to make a point; a true disciple must have a clean heart marked by humility and faith. In these stories Jesus has interactions with the Pharisees and the Syrophoenician (Si-ro-fo-knee-shun) woman. The accusation this time rests on the question asked by the Pharisees in verse 5, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”
In response to the question, Jesus slams the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and the elevation of their own tradition above the command of the Lord. Ultimately, the religion of the Pharisees was an interpretation (with many restrictions) of God’s Law. This interpretation was intended to be a hedge of protection so that a person doesn’t even come close to breaking the precepts of God; but that wasn’t the point for God giving the Law. As you know, the Pharisees found righteousness in keeping their interpretation of the Law—that is bad. The Law was intended to reveal the heart of God giving tangible examples of how people could love the Lord with all their hearts, and their neighbors as themselves (Matthew 22:36-40).
Jesus’ concluded that what goes in a person is not what defiles (7:15), rather it is the contents of the heart. Although the Pharisee had the whole Old Testament memorized, they failed to understand the heart of God. Over and over we see in the gospels how the religious elite missed the point, now enters the Syrophoenician woman.
Jesus doesn’t exactly look like a hero in his first response to the woman, she’s begging for her child when Jesus says, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” I think it’s clear from her response that she understood this not as an insult, but as a test. Jesus wasn’t being mean, he was giving her an opportunity to display the faith he knew she had that would be recorded in the eternal pages of scripture.
Through her response we understand what Mark is doing in this passage by putting these two stories side by side. The Pharisees considered the Gentiles unclean and yet, she is the one who has the marks of a true disciple. She has faith, she has humility, and she understands that there is no other source for healing. Thus, a true disciple must have a clean heart marked by humility and faith.
As you consider this passage today, ask yourself, “is your heart marked by humility and faith, is it clean?” What is Jesus doing in your life for which you cannot keep silent (7:36)? Please share in the comments.
By: Tyler Short — Connections Ministry Associate