The Rebukes of Christ
This paragraph shows Christ"s method of rebuking. The paragraph which immediately succeeds shows Christ"s method of instructing. The paragraphs may be taken together in a discourse upon the outward and inward relations of Jesus Christ: his relations to the Pharisees and the general body of the people, and his more secret and spiritual relations to his disciples.
In the case of the Pharisees, there was (1) something right; (2) something incomplete; (3) something wrong. Let this be shown:—
(1) There was something right. The Pharisees noticed that a few plain men who had no right, so far as their social standing was concerned, to lead the fashion or custom of society, had treated with neglect, perhaps with contempt, a well-established custom. Men who introduce new eras, or teach revolutionary ideas, or set aside the traditions of the elders, have no claim to exemption from rigorous questioning. Social life should be more than a mere collection of personal fancies. There should be law and discipline in social habit. There is a line up to which personal independence should be claimed: beyond that line men should consider one another, and maintain a common order. In this case, the traditional discipline had been set aside, and the question, Why? is a proper one. We should make inquiries about each other, and show a religious concern about each other"s habits.
(2) There was something incomplete. Ceremonialism is always incomplete. It is impossible that ritual can be final, because the moral must exceed the formal. The discipline of "the Pharisees and all the Jews" was no easy matter after all. Do we sufficiently consider that the men whom we hold in contempt put themselves to far greater trouble in maintaining their religious duties and scruples than we do? Beware, lest contempt be mistaken for spirituality! This frequent washing of hands, this abstinence from meat until the hands had been washed, this washing of cups and pots, brazen vessels and tables, this tithing of mint, anise, and cummin, when put together, show that the religious habits of the Pharisees were such as required time, patience, and constancy, and not a little self-denial. We have escaped the trouble; have we within us the spirit of consecration of which all outward habits should be the sign? Are we satisfied with mere sentiment, or do we endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ?
(3) There was something wrong. They rejected the commandment of God, that they might keep their own tradition; they taught for doctrines the commandments of men; they honoured God with their lips, but their heart was far from him. Before God, life is not a question of washed hands, but of a washed heart; it is not a question of kneeling, but of praying. Religion may be a mere civility towards God,—a courteous acknowledgment of his existence, and nothing more!
In rebuking the inquirers Jesus Christ seized upon their moral defects, and showed them that God pierced the heart. His tone was spiritual. He set up no technical argument about forms and ceremonies; he held the infinite light of divine righteousness over the secret corruption of the heart.
The point to be specially observed Isaiah, that a right spirit will make to itself right forms, and that it is no sign of heavenly-mindedness to sneer at Christian formalities. Public worship, open profession of Christ, family devotion, Christian services, may express the sanctity and love of the heart as before God.
14. And when he had called all the people unto him, he said unto them, Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand:
15. There is nothing from without a Prayer of Manasseh, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man.
16. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.
17. And when he was entered into the house from the people, his disciples asked him concerning the parable.
18. And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the Prayer of Manasseh, it cannot defile him;
19. Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?
20. And he said, That which cometh out of the Prayer of Manasseh, that defileth the man.
21. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,
22. Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness:
23. All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.
The doctrine was stated in the hearing of all the people: the explanation was given to the disciples alone. Truth is not always self-explanatory. We need the living teacher as well as the divine truth.
Amongst the lessons taught by this figure may be mentioned—
(1) That men are corrupted by such outward things only as touch some corresponding quality in their own nature. Some men can make money without becoming covetous. Some men can dress handsomely without becoming vain. Some men can enjoy amusements without becoming frivolous. Other men, differently constituted, have to watch themselves in all these particulars as they would watch gunpowder. Hence the folly and injustice of judging one another!
(2) That words and actions reveal the true spiritual quality of the speaker and actor. "That which cometh out of the Prayer of Manasseh, that defileth the man." There is a common saying that no man can injure a man but himself. It is not wholly true, yet largely so. Not what is said about a Prayer of Manasseh, but what the man himself says, is the true standard.—(a) This doctrine destroys the excuse that circumstances are blamable for our moral defilement.—(b) This doctrine determines the bounds of social judgment. For example, you accuse a man of having attended a certain questionable class of amusements; now observe, the amusements may have done the man no harm, but the censoriousness of your spirit may have defiled you! Or, again: you suppose that because a man is prosperous he must of necessity be worldly-minded; now, the prosperity may have left him unspoiled, but the criticism may show you to be envious, ignoble, and spiteful, though it may have been offered with a pious sigh!
The21st and22nd verses give a picture of the human heart as presented by Jesus Christ.
Looking at this graphic, but most terrible and humiliating picture, four things are clear:—
(1) That the heart is chargeable with foulest apostasy. Compare this picture with the heart as it came from God. "Let us make man in our image," etc. "God hath made man upright," etc. What forces are in man! What fury,—what malevolence!
(2) That this apostasy shows itself in many ways. Read the black list! No one man may reveal his corruptness in the whole of these ways. A man may never commit "adultery," yet his mind may be full of "evil thoughts": he may resent the charge of having committed "thefts," yet he may be degraded by the spirit of "covetousness": he may shudder at the thought of "murder," yet he may be mad with "pride." We are all somewhere in this list of devils!
(3) That such apostasy has no power of self-recovery. "The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." In a case so desperate the help must come from the outside.
(4) That the nature and scope of the apostasy includes the whole race in one condemnation. "There is none righteous." "All we like sheep have gone astray," etc. "Where is boasting?" "Let him that thinketh he standeth," etc.
Spiritual diseases require spiritual remedies. It is not thine hand, O Prayer of Manasseh, but thine heart of hearts that is wrong! "Though thou wash thee with nitre and take much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord." The day of heart-trying is at hand. "Who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner"s fire, and like fuller"s soap." "Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin."
24. And from thence he arose, and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon, and entered into an house, and would have no man know it: but he could not be hid.
25. For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet:
26. The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter.
27. But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children"s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs.
28. And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children"s crumbs.
29. And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter.
30. And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed.
(1) Some things which are evil in themselves may be the occasion of good. The unclean spirit was the occasion of this mother hearing of Jesus Christ! But for the unclean spirit her interest in the great stranger might never have been awakened. So with all bad, unfortunate, painful things, they should lead to Christ. Affliction, loss, weakness, etc. On the other hand, whoever has heard of Christ should publish him to those who have never heard of him.
(2) The mere hearing of Jesus Christ may be without profit to the hearer. This woman not only heard of Christ, "she came and fell at his feet, and besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter." Remark upon the tremendous responsibility of forming part of a Christian congregation, and yet not going to Christ. Does hearing of water quench thirst? Does hearing of medicine heal disease? Show that men should be as sensible in religious questions as in ordinary affairs.
(3) The prayer of the heart never fails. Its particular object may often be denied, but the heart itself is comforted and quieted by divine ministries. In this incident the heart does two things: (a) it shows the superiority of the human over the national; (b) it excites intellectual energy,—how sublime the reply of the woman! The mind is strongest and brightest when under the dominion of the heart. Sorrow makes the poorest lips eloquent. Under such circumstances the pleading mother might have (a) pronounced herself insulted; (b) resented the terms in which she and her child were described; (c) denounced the inability of Christ to meet a case so desperate as hers. She did none of these things. She shot back Christ"s own arrow from the bow of her heart.
The whole incident gives, first, a lesson to mothers,—pray for your children; second, an encouragement to intercessors,—urge upon God the desires of the inmost heart; third, a sublime view of divine sufficiency,—the crumbs of God"s table are better than the luxuries of all other tables; the poorest, dimmest conceptions of Christian truth are more to be prized than the fullest revelations of truth that are merely introductory or subordinate; fourth, a hint as to the limitation of the highest services,—the child was healed apart from any action of her own: the mother plucked this fruit of the highest branch, and gave it to her little daughter. There is a time when the child"s own will may set itself against God. The child becomes more than a child. Whilst children are wholly yours, beseech God much in their behalf.
31. And again, departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, he came unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis.
32. And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him.
33. And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue;
34. And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that Isaiah, Be opened.
35. And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.
36. And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it;
37. And were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.
(1) Christ sighed,—his view of human nature touched his heart. (a) His natural sensibilities were touched by human suffering, and therefore he was a man of like passions with ourselves; (b) his sympathies ever responded to the necessities of human life, and therefore he had all the human qualifications needful for a Saviour of men.
(2) Christ looked up to heaven. He connected the divine with the human: he showed the unity of the great system of which what we see is but a part: he made even his physical work a spiritual exercise.
(3) Christ said, Be opened. He spoke authoritatively; the weakness of the sigh became changed into the strength of royalty.
See how these exercises follow each other in something more than a merely logical order. What an appeal to the minister of Christ! (1) Canst thou do any great work in the world without sighing? without tender sympathy? without having thy very heart pierced with sorrow for human sin and pain? (2) Canst thou work without looking heavenward? Is the battle there? Dost thou not need to bring down God to thy side? O Prayer of Manasseh, self-trusting, thou hast failed in thy ministry, because in the midst of work no time was found for an upward glance,—for the look which is prayer. (3) Hast thou spoken feebly, hesitatingly, apologetically? Dost thou speak the word as if begging pardon for an intrusion? Or, with clearness, power and authority? How?
Markk shows what the whole world will say when Christ"s mediation is completed.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Mark 7". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany