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Bible Commentaries

J.D. Jones's Commentary on the Book of Mark
Mark 7

 

 

Verse 23

Chapter6.
The Things That Defile

"And when they had passed over, they came into the land of Gennesaret, and drew to the shore. And when they were come out of the ship, straightway they knew Him, And ran through that whole region round about, and began to carry about in beds those that were sick, where they heard He was. And whithersoever He entered, into villages, or cities, or country, they laid the sick in the streets, and besought Him that they might touch if it were but the border of His garment: and as many as touched Him were made whole. Then came together unto Him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem. And when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders. And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables. Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, Why walk not Thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands? He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. Howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And He said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free. And ye suffer Him no more to do ought for his father or his mother; Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye. And when He had called all the people unto Him, He said unto them, Hearken unto Me every one of you, and understand: 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. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear. And when He was entered into the house from the people, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. 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; Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats? And He said, That which cometh out of the Prayer of Manasseh , that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man."Mark 6:53 to Mark 7:23.

The Lapsed Multitude.

The brief verses at the close of chapter vi. form a connecting link between the wonderful story of the walking upon the sea and that of our Lord"s controversy with the Pharisees about the washing of hands. We know as a matter of fact that this incident did not follow immediately upon the miracle. For John tells us that on the day following the night of storm Jesus preached the wonderful sermon in which He announced Himself to be the Bread of life, and said that only by eating His flesh and drinking His blood could men gain eternal life. The result of that sermon was that Christ"s popularity was shattered, and the multitudes who up to this point had been enthusiastic in His cause "went back, and walked no more with Him" ( John 6:66). Indeed, Christ found Himself practically reduced to His twelve disciples as the only followers in whose devotion He could trust, and upon whose loyalty He could rely. After the crisis He appears to have left Capernaum, and visited Gennesaret.

—And their Eagerness for Material Benefits.

But though the people had turned their backs on His teaching, they had by no means lost faith in His power. So His coming to Gennesaret converted the place into a kind of field hospital; for the people "ran round about that whole region, and began to carry about on their beds those that were sick, where they heard He was. And wheresoever He entered into villages, or into cities, or into the country, they laid the sick in the market-places, and besought Him that they might touch if it were but the border of His garment: and as many as touched Him were made whole" ( Mark 6:55-56). You notice that, if these people were not prepared to accept the spiritual truths Christ taught, they were only too eager to profit by the material blessings He bestowed. If they were not ready to take upon their necks His easy yoke, they were quite ready to fly to Him to get healing for their sicknesses and cure for their diseases. It is a curious phenomenon, this repudiation of Christ"s authority, combined with willingness to make a convenience of Him. But it is by no means a rare phenomenon. There are plenty of people who refuse to obey Christ, and still fly to Him to help them in their troubles. There are plenty of people who turn their backs on Him when He speaks to them about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, who yet appeal to Him when they are in distress. This making a convenience of Christ—wanting His gifts, but not wanting Him—is a pitiful business.

The Breadth of Christ"s Love.

But the marvel is that Christ responds to the cry even of those who have refused to obey Him. "He is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil" ( Luke 6:35). For see what happened in this case. These people were amongst those who "went back, and walked no more with Him." And yet, when they came seeking Christ"s help, this is what I read, "As many as touched Him were made whole" ( Mark 6:56). He did not withhold His help because they had refused their obedience. "As many as touched Him were made whole." And He is the same compassionate and loving Christ still. We are often unthankful and disobedient. But when trouble drives us to Him, He does not cast our unthankfulness and disobedience in our teeth. He hurries to us with help and succour.

"Unwearied in forgiveness still,

His heart can only love."

Hostility at Work.

Now it was about Passover time, as John tells us, that the miracle of the feeding of the5000 , and the incident of the storm, and the subsequent crisis amongst Christ"s followers took place. Perhaps, as Mr. David Smith suggests, the rulers had expected that He would come up to Jerusalem for the feast, and that they would be able to compass His overthrow. Disappointed in this, they seem to have sent down from Jerusalem a deputation of Scribes and Pharisees, to co-operate with the local authorities of Capernaum in scrutinising the actions of Christ—lying in wait for opportunities of bringing Him to book.

The Charge against Jesus.

It was not very long before they found ground for complaint. As in their previous accusation against Him with reference to the Sabbath, it was apparently the conduct of the disciples, rather than that of Jesus Himself, that was at fault. But probably they argued—and they were perfectly right in so arguing—that the conduct of the disciples in a measure reflected the teaching of their Master, and that, if they neglected a certain ritual observance, it was because Jesus had made them feel that the observance in question was trivial and unimportant. Now the particular thing that scandalised these spying Pharisees and Scribes was the fact that the disciples ate bread with defiled—i.e. unwashen hands. And then Mark proceeds to explain to the Gentile readers how it was that a trumpery omission of this kind could be construed into a mortal offence. "For," he says, "the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands diligently, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders: and when they come from the market-place, except they wash themselves, they eat not: and many other things there be, which they have received to hold, washings of cups, and pots, and brasen vessels" ( Mark 6:3-4).

The Law and Tradition.

Moses had, as Dr. Glover says, very freely commanded washing. Partly for sanitary reasons, and partly also to emphasize the separateness of the chosen race, the Law required ablution on certain occasions. But these occasions, the "tradition of the elders" had indefinitely multiplied. They not only washed in cases of actual defilement, as Moses commanded; but they washed, for fear of possible and unconscious defilement. And Song of Solomon , for instance, as Mark here mentions, when they came home from market they washed, lest in the market they should have contracted defilement by unconscious contact with a Gentile. And a multitude of similar puerile rules tradition formulated, until life became a veritable slavery. And any breach of these rules was counted a heinous sin, to be punished by excommunication. This was the charge these Scribes and Pharisees brought against the disciples. "Why walk not Thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with defiled hands?" ( Mark 6:5). They had committed the monstrous crime of breaking one of the multitudinous trumpery rules with which Rabbinism had burdened and encumbered human life.

The Charge Met.

What had Jesus Christ to say in answer to this charge? If it would be right to use the epithet "scornful" of Jesus, I believe it would be right to use it of Him here. There is a kind of splendid scorn of the blind folly that could exalt the washing of the hands into an article of religion. His answer to the charge is to brand those who made it as hypocrites. "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites." And what is a hypocrite? Well, literally, he is a man who plays a part on the stage. That was what these Scribes and Pharisees, with their insistence upon petty and trumpery rules, were—mere play-actors, men who wore a mask of religion. They paid outward deference to God, but their heart was far from Him. What they had was not really a religion, but a ritual; and, as Isaiah reminded the Jews long before, you may have the ritual without the religion. "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me? saith the Lord.... Your new moons and your appointed feasts My soul hateth;... I am weary to bear them" ( Isaiah 1:11, Isaiah 1:14). It was a case of ritual without religion. It was the publican, and not the Pharisee who boasted of his punctiliousness in the observance of religious duties, who went down to his house justified. God had no pleasure in the Pharisee and his prayers. They meant ritual without religion.

Ritual without Religion.

It was so in the case of these Scribes and Pharisees in our paragraph. They were scrupulous about ablutions, they held up their hands in pious horror at the bare thought of eating bread with unwashen hands, but they were careless about mercy and love and truth. Jesus calls them "hypocrites"—mummers, play-actors. Their punctiliousness was but ritual without religion. And I may go further, for not only may ritual exist without religion, but emphasized ritual is a dangerous enemy to religion. Laying undue importance upon the outward forms, you obscure the importance of the inner spirit. Once you exaggerate the importance of external rules, you minimise the importance of faith and love. Once ceremonialism comes in by the door, genuine religion has a way of flying out by the window.

An Example of its Working.

Palestine in our Lord"s day is an illustration of the truth of this. Religion had been smothered beneath ritual. Washing the hands counted for more than the devotion of the heart. They were careful of petty rules, and careless of the great commands of God. Take the glaring and monstrous case which Jesus cast up against them. The fifth commandment in the Decalogue was this: "Honour thy father and thy mother." And by honouring them is meant not simply outward deference, but obedience in youth, and assistance, if required, in age. This filial duty is not only commanded by God, but it is ratified by the instinct of universal human nature. But Jewish casuistry had invented a way by which greedy and selfish men could evade that plain and obvious duty, and do so in the name of religion. Whatever was vowed to God was sacred to the uses of religion. It was corban—an offering—and must pass into the hands of the priests. It need not, and often was not paid at once; the money so dedicated was often employed by the owner during life, and only actually passed into the Temple treasury at his death. But the fact that it was corban placed it beyond the reach of ordinary claims; for they held it sacrilegious to apply to other uses what had once been dedicated to God. Now wicked and shameless men used this tradition about corban to evade some of their plain and primary responsibilities. Selfish sons, for instance, played this trick upon needy parents, and answered their piteous appeals for help by this very formula which our Lord here quotes, "That wherewith thou mightest have been profited by me is corban" ( Mark 6:11). The peculiar odiousness of it lay in the circumstance that it was done in the name of God. Religion was used to justify selfishness and greed; or rather, devotion to ritual was allowed to stifle and destroy religion; "making void," said Jesus, "the word of God by your tradition, which ye have delivered" ( Mark 6:13).

A Modern Peril.

Now, has all this any message for us? Has it any pertinency to our time? I am persuaded that it has. These are days of developed ritualism. But let us never forget that ritual is not religion. The one can never take the place of the other. Religion is not a posture of the body; it is an attitude of the heart. God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth. In so far as ritual tends to emphasize the external rather than the internal, the form rather than the spirit, it is to be jealously guarded against, rather than fostered and encouraged. For you cannot magnify the little external things of religion, without thereby minimising the great and vital things.

Defilement—External and Vital.

All this talk about externalism had arisen from the complaint made by the Scribes and Pharisees about the "unwashen" hands of the disciples. It was only outward defilement that they seemed to have any notion of. Christ proceeds now to show what the true sources of defilement are. It was a lesson that not only these spying enemies of His, but the whole body of people, needed to be taught. So He called to Him the multitude, and said to them, "Hear Me all of you, and understand: there is nothing from without the Prayer of Manasseh , that going into him can defile him: but the things which proceed out of the man are those that defile the man" ( Mark 6:15). It was one of those great sweeping truths that Christ delighted to utter. It went right beyond ceremonial conditions to moral verities—beyond the outward to the inward. By this one word He swept away all those multitudes of regulations that tradition had accumulated, and indeed struck at the artificial distinction which the Mosaic law made between things clean and unclean—a regulation which had perhaps been useful in its day, but had served its time.

The Distinction and Difference.

The disciples realised that it was a broad and sweeping statement, whose bearings they did not all at once take in. And so when they were alone in the house they asked Him as to the parable. Hebrews , with some words implying rebuke, condescends patiently to explain it to them. And the gist of His explanation comes to this that, as Dr. Glover puts it, defilement arises not from food, but from faults. The centre of pollution is the evil heart. "Out of the heart of men, evil thoughts proceed, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, covetings, wickednesses, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, railing, pride, foolishness: all these evil things proceed from within, and defile the man" ( Mark 6:21, Mark 6:23). "This He said," remarks the Evangelist, "making all meats clean" ( Mark 6:19). Yes, He did that; but He did much more. He revolutionised the whole notion of defilement. In the deepest sense there is no defilement, save moral and spiritual defilement. The only thing that really pollutes a man is an unclean heart.

A Personal Application.

Have we learned the lesson? I wonder whether even in Christian England there are not a great many people who are far more troubled about dirty hands than they are about a dirty soul! I wonder whether even to this day Society at large does not lay a great deal more stress upon correct behaviour than it does upon a clean heart! But, at any rate, let us be under no delusion. Our Lord "looketh upon the heart." He tests and measures everything by what He sees there. A man is clean or defiled according as his heart is clean or defiled; and what defiles the heart is the evil thought. Go through this list, and examine yourself by it. Perhaps we can honestly say that some of the things that are in this terrible list are not in our hearts—fornication, thefts, murders, adulteries. But what about covetings? And what about deceit? And what about the evil and envious eye? And what about pride? Are none of them there? And none of them enter the heart without leaving a black and ugly smudge upon it. When I think of it all, I am tempted to cry out, like the leper, "Unclean! unclean!" For, like John Bunyan, I feel that sin and corruption do as naturally bubble out of my heart as water bubbles out of a fountain, until, like him, at the sight of my own vileness I fall deeply into despair. But there is One who can make my defiled heart clean again. No external cleansing can wash away the stains that evil thoughts make. "Though thou wash thee with lye, and take thee much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before Me, saith the Lord God" ( Jeremiah 2:22). "And the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin" ( 1 John 1:7). And so I turn to Him with the prayer, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me."


Verse 24

Chapter7.
He Who Could Not Be Hid

"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."Mark 7:24.

The Limits of Christ"s Ministry.

Jesus for the most part confined Himself to His own people. In Matthew"s account of this incident the Lord says that He was not sent save to the lost sheep of the house of Israel ( Matthew 15:24). This does not mean that His sympathies were limited to those of His own race. They ran out to those other sheep which were not of the Jewish fold; and never in all His life was He so moved as when He was notified of the desire of those Greeks who came to Philippians , saying, " Sirach , we would see Jesus." It was in the interests of His work that Christ confined Himself to Palestine. For the future of Christianity it was infinitely better that He should concentrate His energies upon a limited number, and impress them deeply, radically, vitally, than that He should dissipate Himself over larger Numbers , and leave only a weak and ineffectual impression upon any. By concentrating His energies upon Palestine, and specially upon His twelve disciples, Jesus produced so deep and profound an impression that, even though He went, it was absolutely certain that the Christian faith would remain. But, all the same, I am glad He did not absolutely and entirely limit Himself to Israel.

The Visit to Phœnicia.

—Its Cause.

Once at least Christ crossed the border and sojourned amongst the Gentiles. Here we reach the story of that visit to those who were strangers and aliens from the commonwealth of Israel. "And from thence He arose," says Mark , "and went away into the borders of Tyre and Sidon" ( Mark 7:24). What was it that impelled our Lord to take this long and tedious journey into pagan Phœnicia? What was it made Him break His rule of confining Himself to Palestine? I think it was His desire for solitude and quietness. You remember how, after the return of the Twelve from their first evangelising tour, He had invited them to come apart into a desert place to rest awhile. He saw they needed rest after the excitements of their missionary labours, and He had Himself many things to say to them about the future which it was necessary they should hear and understand. But the rest they sought on the other side of the sea they did not find. Instead of a solitude, they found a multitude. Instead of quietness, they had passed ever since from one excitement to another. First, the feeding of the5000; then the storm at sea; then the crisis in Capernaum and the desertion of the crowds; and, finally, the controversy with the Jerusalem Scribes and Pharisees about ablutions.

In Search of Retirement.

The opportunity for quiet talk with His disciples which Christ had so much wanted had never come. And yet every day that passed showed more and more clearly how urgently necessary such a time of quietness was. Even in the controversy about ablutions the slowness of the disciples had distressed Jesus. "Are ye so without understanding also?" He said. It became obvious to Jesus that if the disciples were to be ready for that time when He would be taken from them, He must somehow gain quietness and leisure to teach and train them. But the quietness He wanted it seemed hopeless to expect anywhere in Palestine. Experience had taught Him that, no matter where He went, the multitude was sure to follow. And so He turned His eyes to the land that lay to the north-west of Galilee.

The people of that country were the descendants of the ancient Canaanites, whom the Israelites had dispossessed on their entrance into the Land of Promise. They had once been the foremost maritime people in the world, though now fallen from their high estate. But to the Jew the land was an unclean and abhorred land, because of the loathsome and licentious idolatry practised by its inhabitants. To this country Jesus now bends His steps. Its very loathsomeness to the Jew seemed to promise to Him the quietness and retirement He desired. He went away into the borders of Tyre and Sidon, hoping to be able to sojourn there unrecognised and undisturbed. But once again the rest had to be set aside.

"But He could not be hid."

"He entered into a house, and would have no man know it," says Mark: "and He could not be hid" ( Mark 7:24). "He could not be hid!" That is one of the penalties of greatness—privacy becomes impossible. Let our king travel abroad, and he cannot be hid. He may travel incognito, as we term it, but the ubiquitous newspaper man is ever on his heels, watching his every Acts , and his every movement is proclaimed to the world. And Jesus could not be hid. Not that the newspaper man existed, as we know him, in those far-off days. But His sayings and doings had set all Palestine in a ferment. He was the subject of conversation wherever men did congregate. Phœnician visitors who had heard of His wonderful works, and perhaps witnessed some of them, had carried His name and fame beyond the confines of His own land, and had astonished their own countrymen with the report of what they had seen and heard. Doubtless, in many a home in pagan Phœnicia, and especially in many a sick home, the name and power of Christ had been eagerly canvassed. Christ"s fame had preceded Him into the borders of Tyre and Sidon.

The Power of His Personality.

Quite apart from what report had done for Him, I believe there was something in the very aspect of Jesus that made people feel that here was no ordinary man. "Her very walk proclaimed her a goddess," says Virgil, about one of the characters in his Æneid. And so there was something about the appearance, the manner, the speech of Jesus that proclaimed the secret He fain would hide. I was once discussing with my Bible Class the passage in which John tells how the officers of the Temple, who had been sent to seize Christ, returned with their errand unfulfilled, giving as their excuse, "Never man so spake." And I asked my class what they thought it was about Jesus that had so impressed and subdued these Temple officials. And one of them replied, "I think it must have been something in His very face." Technically, the answer was not the right one. But, all the same, I think it was profoundly true. I think there was something in the very face of Jesus, a nobility and a graciousness about Him, that stirred unwonted emotions in every heart. No, Jesus "could not be hid." Face, speech, manner, all published abroad who and what He was. You may build, as some one has said, a high wall around your rose garden; yet you cannot hide the existence of the roses. Over the highest wall ever built the roses will waft their fragrance, and men as they pass will say, "There are roses near." And Jesus was the Rose of Sharon. Fragrant, gladdening, sweetening influences flowed forth from Him. Instinctively, men recognised that the Rose was in their midst. Jesus needed no trumpet to sound before Him, no herald to proclaim His coming. Men found Him out. He had not been an hour amongst these pagan strangers in Phœnicia before they knew that He was no ordinary man. "He could not be hid."

The Self-evident Christianity.

Nor, suffer me to say in passing, can the true Christian either. If a man is able to hide his Christianity, it is probably because there is no Christianity to hide. When a man is a true Christian, all the world knows it. A genuine faith always proclaims itself by the influences it emits and the qualities it begets. "They took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus." The men who have really been with Jesus "cannot be hid."


Verses 25-30

Chapter8.
The Syro-PhŒnician Woman

"For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of Him, and came and fell at His feet: The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought Him that He would cast forth the devil out of her daughter. 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. And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children"s crumbs. And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter. And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed."Mark 7:25-30.

The Unexpected

The story that follows is a story full of difficulties, difficulties arising mainly from our Lord"s conduct. Dr. Vaughan, of Kensington, had a sermon on the Cursing of the Barren Fig Tree, and this is how he always began it: "Curse a fig-tree! My Master curse a fig-tree! "Tisn"t like Him." And Song of Solomon , when I read of our Lord"s treatment of this Canaanitish woman, I am tempted to say, "What! Turn a deaf ear to a cry for help? What! Mock at sorrow"s appeal? What! My Master speak roughly to a woman? "Tisn"t like Him." No, it isn"t like Him. And that is exactly the difficulty.

For at first sight His treatment of this poor woman seems absolutely contrary to His custom. So much Song of Solomon , that some have found no incident in our Lord"s earthly ministry more puzzling than this.

—And its Difficulties.

The difficulty is twofold. There Isaiah , first of all, the difficulty of His reluctance to take any notice of the woman at all; and there Isaiah , secondly, the difficulty of His seeming harshness and cruelty.

The Difficulty of Christ"s Reluctance.

Let us deal with the matter of our Lord"s reluctance first. It is the lesser of the two difficulties, and can, I think, easily be explained. Mark does not refer to it. It is in the fuller account of Matthew that we find it recorded. Let me give it you as Matthew narrates it. "And behold, a Canaanitish woman came out from those borders, and cried, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and besought Him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. But He answered and said, I was not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (xv22-24). Now that isn"t like Him, is it?—to turn a deaf ear to a cry for help? It is a strange thing to find the disciples more forward than the Master. The Jesus we read about in the other pages of the Gospel never needed to be begged and urged and entreated to do a kindness. He was "swift to bless." Did the leper cry to Him, and say, "If Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean?" His answer came swift as a flash. "I will; be thou clean." Indeed, in case after case, Our Lord never needed to be asked at all. He did not need to be asked to feed the5000 in the wilderness. He had compassion on them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd. He broke the bread for them of His own accord. He did not need to be asked to heal the impotent man at the pool of Bethesda. The sight of the man in his misery was enough for Jesus, and He Himself made the offer of healing, "Wilt thou be made whole?" He did not need to be asked to raise the dead son of the widow of Nam to life again. He was so moved with pity for her sorrow that of His own accord He bade the bearers be still, and summoned the dead man back to life. That is the Jesus we most often read about in the Gospels—a Jesus who never needed to be asked twice, who turned away from nobody"s call, who often anticipated men"s prayers and appeals, who was "swift to bless."

He did not deny Gentiles.

It staggers one, therefore, to read that, when this Canaanitish woman came with her piteous plea, He answered her not a word; that even His disciples showed more compassion and pity than He. How was it? Most commentators explain it all on the ground that Christ"s mission was first of all to the Jews, and that He was not called upon to confer His gifts upon the Gentiles. But the explanation is not satisfactory; for, as a matter of fact, Christ never hesitated to confer blessing upon Gentiles when they crossed His path, as, e.g, in the case of the Roman centurion. No, I think the explanation is a much simpler one. I believe that Jesus was genuinely reluctant to perform any wonder in these borders of Tyre and Sidon.

But He sought Retirement

But it was not at all because the woman who entreated Him was a Gentile. It was because the performance of a great work of healing would defeat the very object for which He had journeyed thither. He had left Galilee and made His way to pagan Phœnicia for quietness and rest,—quietness to teach His disciples, and to give them that training which they needed, in view of His coming departure. To perform a miracle would make impossible the quietness He and they so sorely needed. Song of Solomon , to quote Mr. David Smith, it was with a feeling of dismay that He observed the approach of a suppliant. He foresaw the consequences of granting her petition. The fame of the miracle would go abroad, and He would soon be surrounded by a crowd—sufferers craving relief, and others who came only to gaze and admire. And that is exactly the result this miracle brought about. The report of it was spread abroad, and Jesus had to seek elsewhere the seclusion denied to Him in the borders of Tyre and Sidon.

The Difficulty of Christ"s Words.

But the difficulty of our Lord"s reluctance is not nearly so great as the difficulty caused by our Lord"s seemingly harsh and even cruel speech. Let me remind you of the conversation that took place between Him and this broken-hearted woman. No doubt the woman overheard our Lord"s answer to the disciples, that He was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. That in itself was enough to quench the woman"s hope. But love for her daughter lent her importunity, and she followed the Master and His disciples until they came into the house. When they took their places at table she fell at Christ"s feet with the pathetic prayer, "Lord, help me." He took notice of her now, and answered her—But what an answer! "It is not meet," He said, "to take the children"s bread, and cast it to the dogs" ( Mark 7:26). It was not only refusal. It looked like refusal with insult. That is not like Him, is it?

A Strange Contrast.

When I turn over the pages of the Gospels, and read of His dealings with other grief-stricken souls, it is the Lord"s tenderness and gentleness that strike me. He comforted the woman who was a sinner with the gift of peace. He called the timid woman who had got her blessing by stealth, "Daughter." Even for the woman who was detected in sin and shame, He had only a solemn but infinitely tender rebuke. "A bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall He not quench" ( Isaiah 42:3). All the more staggering is it, therefore, to read of Him giving an answer like this: "It is not meet to take the children"s bread, and cast it to the dogs" ( Mark 7:27). What explanation can we give of it? For it is impossible that our Lord could be really harsh or cruel.

—Explained.

The common, favourite explanation is to say that our Lord"s roughness was all assumed. It was designed only to try the woman"s faith, and possibly to show His disciples what even a heathen woman was capable of. And perhaps there is truth in all this, and we must judge the whole episode in the light of the boon bestowed and the blessing pronounced at the end. But, in addition to that broad and general explanation, a closer study of our Lord"s words will mitigate somewhat their first impression of harshness. "Let the children first be filled," He said. It looks at first like a blank refusal. But a closer scrutiny reveals hope in what seems at first a flat denial. Look at that word "first." "Let the children first be filled." Surely there was a world of encouragement in it—encouragement which this quick-witted woman would not fail to grasp. First, it implied that her time would come, and that it was only a question of time. And that very word "dog" in the original is not nearly so harsh as it is in our English version. The form of the word which our Lord uses is the diminutive—and it may well be a diminutive of endearment. "Doggies," our Lord"s word might be rendered. He does not use a word which would be suitable for those fierce and unclean beasts that prowl the streets and act as scavengers. He uses rather a term that would be applicable to little house-dogs, the household pets which played about the table at meal-time, and got occasional scraps from their masters. And so this very word which at first looks like mere and sheer insult, may itself have kindled hope in the woman"s heart. There is no edge of cruelty; and, as Dr. Chadwick says, "It domesticated the Gentile world." It gave this woman a place, even though a humble and lowly place, in the household of God.

A Contest of Wits.

Then Mr. David Smith suggests that both the answer of our Lord and the retort of the woman are proverbial—that it was something like a contest of wits between them, and that in dealing thus with this Gentile woman Jesus only showed His incomparable insight into the human character. With a nimble and quick-witted Greek it was the very way to deal. "Truth, Lord. I am not better than a poor pet-dog; but then I am not asking much. I wish not more than scraps." Then I like to think that these words are to be always read, taking Christ"s tone and look into account. A difference of tone will make all the difference between ugly insult and innocent raillery.

It depends upon the "look" whether an answer is to be taken as a refusal, or as a challenge to bolder confidence. This woman saw the looks and heard the tones of the Lord. And that took all the harshness and cruelty out of the words. There was a gentleness in His voice, and when she looked into His face she saw there such pity and grace, that this answer which we are so apt to regard as harsh, became to her just an encouragement to hope on, and so she returned her great answer, "Yea, Lord: even the dogs under the table eat of the children"s crumbs" ( Mark 7:28).

Sorrow and the Saviour.

But now as to some of the main truths taught by this story. And first, of the way in which sorrow brings people to the Saviour. "He could not be hid," says Mark. "But straightway a woman, whose little daughter had an unclean spirit, having heard of Him, came and fell at His feet" ( Mark 7:24-25). You notice who it was that discovered Christ—it was a woman in trouble. Do you ask me how it was she found Him out? I cannot tell. How does the bee discover the flower in which the honey is hidden? Instinct, you say. Well, I say it was the instinct of need that discovered where help could be found. The comfortable and prosperous people of Tyre would never have discovered Jesus. He might have spent His days in their borders undisturbed and unrecognised, as far as they were concerned. But misery has a keen scent and sure instinct for a helper. Probably this woman had heard reports of Christ"s healing power. She had heard how He healed the sick, gave cleansing to the leper, and sight to the blind, and cast out devils. I can believe that again and again she had wished the Lord would come her way—for she had a little daughter plagued with an unclean spirit. And when she heard of this Jewish Stranger, accompanied by a band of disciples, who had come to sojourn at a neighbour"s house; when she heard the description of Him her neighbours gave, with that wonderful intuition that women often possess—and especially women whose characters have been refined by trouble—she jumped to the conclusion that the great Healer of whom she had so often heard was at her very doors. And this was the result, "straightway... having heard of Him," she "came and fell down at His feet."

The Ministry of Trouble.

I find here an illustration of the ministry of trouble. "By these things," i.e. by troubles and difficulties, says the prophet, "men live, and wholly therein is the life of my spirit" ( Isaiah 38:16). There is no truth that human experience more fully and richly verifies. Affliction and trouble have been the means of bringing to men some of their very choicest gifts.

The Sorely-tried Mother.

See what they did for the woman of this story. When epilepsy or insanity—whichever it was—claimed the little child as its victim, this mother"s heart well-nigh broke. I should gather from the tone of the narrative that this little daughter was the woman"s only child. And, from the absence of all reference to a husband and father, I should conclude also that she was a widow. This little child was all she had in the world; so that her grief when the little one was stricken down was all the more bitter. You remember how Luke , to emphasize the sadness of that funeral which Christ met coming out of the gates of Nain, says of the young man who was being carried out to burial that he was "the only son of his mother, and she was a widow." This Syro-Phœnician woman"s trouble was every whit as deep and bitter. For this little girl was also the only child of her mother, and she a widow. And though it was not a case of death, I am not at all sure it was not something worse than death. For reason had been dethroned, and her innocent little child had become possessed of an "unclean spirit." In face of all this you can understand that it was a heart-breaking sorrow, and that the poor woman"s soul often rebelled and grew bitter whenever she gazed upon her daughter. And yet the greatest blessing of her life came to her through the ministry of this sorrow.

—Tried and Refined.

I will say nothing at this point about what the sorrow did in softening and refining her own character. Though I can well believe that through the sickness of her little daughter she gained a new tenderness and sympathy. There was an old Scottish saint who had for a crest a palm-tree with weights depending from its branches, and beneath the crest these words written: Sub pondere cresco—"I grow beneath a burden." There was a belief that the weighted palm grew straightest and fairest, and the old saint had discovered that character grows most fair when it too has loads to bear and griefs to carry. And I can readily believe that this woman"s character developed and grew beneath her heavy burden of her daughter"s sickness.

—Wounded and brought to the Healer

I pass that by with the bare mention, because one might fairly object that it is all a matter of conjecture and imagination. But there is one blessing this sorrow conferred upon her—and it is the greatest blessing of all, which is no matter of guess or conjecture, but is plain, historic fact—it brought her to Jesus Christ. Had she had no little daughter ill, Jesus might have come and gone, and she would never have sought His face. It was trouble that brought her to the Lord"s feet. And in after days, when she found out Who and what Jesus was, when she found out that He met every need and craving of her soul, when she found out, as Paul did, that having Him she had all things and abounded, I think she would come to thank God for the great sorrow that crushed and embittered her life. For her sorrow brought her to her Saviour, and gave her rest to her soul. This is almost a parable of life. When men are in trouble—at their wits" end, as the Psalmist puts it—then they cry unto the Lord. God has many angels who do His errands and summon men to Him, says Archer Butler; but the angel that has gathered most to the Saviour"s feet is the Angel of Sorrow. And that is literally true.

—As Others were.

Think of the people who came to Jesus in the days of His flesh. What brought the lepers crowding to Jesus? Sorrow brought them. What brought the blind and the lame and the dumb wherever men said He was? Sorrow brought them. What brought the woman with the issue of blood to touch His garment, and the woman who was a sinner to wash His feet? Sorrow brought them. What brought the father of the demoniac lad to seek His help? What brought the proud Jairus as a suppliant to His feet? Sorrow brought them. I question very much whether any of these would have sought Christ out, had all been well with them, but the Angel of Sorrow gathered them all in. And it is so still.

—As Others are.

In our days of health and happiness and prosperity we have no sense of want or need, and therefore we do not seek our Lord"s help. But when health fails or the home is darkened, we want help and sympathy. When the strong waters come up against our souls, we need a mighty Arm to save us, and then we cry as this woman did, "Have mercy on me, Thou Son of David." It is perfectly true still that, "The hungry He hath filled with good things; and the rich He hath sent empty away" ( Luke 1:53). And when the man impoverished by sorrow and trouble finds himself enriched with all the comfort and grace of Christ, he will learn to bless God, even for the sorrow that drove him into the Lord"s arms. And so there are compensations for sorrow, and there are great enrichments in trouble.

"Is it raining, little flower?

Be glad of rain;

Too much sun would wither thee,

"Twill shine again;

The sky is very black, "tis true,

But just behind it shines the blue.

Art thou weary, tender heart?

Be glad of pain;

In sorrow sweetest things will grow,

As flowers in rain.

God watches, and thou wilt have sun,

When clouds their perfect work have done."

Any trouble is worth bearing if it brings us into the arms of our blessed Lord, for He is all we need.

The Saviour and the Alien.

Again, this story is a story of Christ"s compassion to a heathen and an alien. Mark is careful to emphasize this fact about the woman, she "was a Greek, a Syro-Phœnician by race," he says ( Mark 7:26). She was not only a Gentile, but she belonged to that race which was held in peculiar abhorrence by the Jews, not simply because they were the descendants of their ancient enemies, but also because of the loathsome character of their idolatries. It was upon a woman of this abhorrent and accursed race that Christ exercised His compassion. Is there no significance in that? Is not the universal mission of Christianity here, in symbol and figure? There is no race outside the love and compassion of that Christ Who stooped to heal and bless and save the most outcast and degraded races in the world.

A Great Precedent and a Glorious Promise.

"The history of the Acts of the Apostles is here in spirit," is Bishop Chadwick"s last word on this incident. So it is. Peter, when he went to preach the Gospel to Cornelius, the Latin centurion, thought he was doing an unheard-of thing, that he was introducing a serious innovation, and so he made an elaborate defence of his conduct. He might have spared himself the trouble. All the defence he needed to make was to point to his Master going to the borders of Tyre and Sidon and there extending His mercy to a Canaanitish woman. Peter"s preaching to Cornelius, Philip"s preaching to the eunuch, the preaching of those unknown missionaries to the Greeks at Antioch, Paul"s superb and world-embracing missionary labours, they are all here in spirit. Christ broke down all distinction of class and race. His love embraces the world. His propitiation avails for the world. There are multitudes which no man can number around the throne clothed in white robes and with palms in their hands, of all people and tribes and kindreds and tongues, and of that vast multitude this alien woman is the sign and the pledge. She was the "first-fruit of the Gentiles." And Christ"s compassion still runs out towards the circle of the earth. His face is still set towards the borders of the Tyre and Sidon of our own times—to the outcast, alien, degraded, sunken folk of the world. And amongst these alien, sunken, degraded folk there are many like this woman, who have sorrows and griefs to bear that only the Great Physician can heal. There are the multitudes of stricken souls longing for the Saviour—here is the Saviour longing to heal and bless them. Shall we not bring the sufferers and the Healer together?

The Triumph of Faith.

But the central thing in the whole incident is the woman"s strong, persistent and ultimately triumphant faith—faith in the sense of trust in the goodness of God and His willingness to bless. It was "faith" of some sort that brought this woman in the first instance to Jesus. The story tells us how her faith was tried. The seemingly harsh answers and refusal of our Lord put that faith of hers to the test. And it showed itself a strong faith—a faith that could persist and hold on, a faith that would not let the Lord go until He had blessed her. You and I—have we got faith? Probably most of us have, of a sort. But what sort of a faith is it? Is it a faith that will stand the test of trial? For often our Lord deals with us as He dealt with this woman. We come to Him with our troubles and appeals, and He seems to take no notice. "Lord," was the message the sisters of Bethany sent to Jesus, "he whom Thou lovest is sick." It was an appeal, a cry, an urgent entreaty. "Hurry to our help," it said, in effect. And Jesus seemed to take no notice of it. For, instead of hurrying off to Bethany, "He abode at that [time two days in the place where He was" ( John 11:6). I wonder what became of the sisters" faith in that interval? Judging by the way they greeted our Lord when at last He did come, I should say there was not much faith left. And that is how the Lord often treats us. He delays His coming; He answers us not a word.

Is the Trial Ours?

The faith of many is being tried in this way. Does the faith hold out? Does it persist, in spite of trials like this woman"s? Let me remind you of a passage in St Peter about faith and its trials. "Wherein," he says, referring to the hope of salvation, "ye greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, ye have been put to grief in manifold temptations, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold that perisheth though it is proved by fire, might be found unto praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ: whom not having seen, ye love; on whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice greatly with joy unspeakable and full of glory: receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls" ( 1 Peter 1:6-9). That is a passage about faith in the trial. And the Apostle says practically two things about faith in the trial. He says that a faith that endures and persists through trial brings glory and honour to Christ. And he says, further, that a faith that so endures shall win its great reward in the blessing of salvation.

The Glory of Faith"s Endurance.

Consider those two points for a moment—a faith that persists through trial and difficulty brings honour and praise to Christ. It is—shall I say?—a compliment to the Lord. What a splendid tribute this woman paid to Jesus! She believed in His power. She believed in His love. Nothing could shake her belief that Jesus both could and would. And there was gratitude as well as admiration in our Lord"s comment, "O woman, great is thy faith." Nothing exalts our Master like an unshaken trust in Him. What a compliment it was that David Livingstone paid to Jesus! He was in a position of great difficulty, but he never lost heart, because he knew he was in his Master"s hands. And he had faith in his Master. "My Master," he said, "is a perfect gentleman. He will never break His word." Does our unshaken faith in times of difficulty and trial bring glory and honour to our Master? Or do we by our complaints and murmurs at the first onset of trial lead the world to believe that we are disappointed in our Master, and that He is not to be trusted? Nothing would sooner beget a belief in Christ than a persistent and cheerful faith on our part.

The Reward of Faith"s Endurance.

In the second place, not only does faith bring glory to Christ, but in the long run it always brings blessing to ourselves. Faith is never finally disappointed. It is always richly justified and rewarded. Look at this woman. Faith persisted, and what a blessing it brought her. "O woman," said our Lord ( Matthew 15:28), "great is thy faith; be it done unto thee even as thou wilt." And she went away, and found her child laid upon the bed, and the devil gone out. "He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved," said Jesus. And the faith that endures and persists shall win the blessing. I am tempted to tell you a story of the mission field—it illustrates my point. The American Board established a mission among one of the many tribes of India. And for years and years the missionaries laboured without result. Ten, twenty years passed, and no convert was made, and by and by this mission came to be known throughout the States as the Lone Star Mission. The Board at home took the case of the mission into consideration. Many thought it ought to be abandoned. They determined at last to write, and ask the missionaries in this trying field what they thought ought to be done. This was the reply that came back to the Board: "We are going on. With God nothing is impossible." Not long after their faith was abundantly justified. The blessing came. Thousands upon thousands accepted Christ; five thousand were baptised in one year, and the Lone Star Mission is quoted now, not as an example of missionary failure, but as a shining illustration of the triumph of faith. That is the kind of faith we want. Persistent faith is always in the long run triumphant faith.

—A Sure Reward.

Spite of all the delays and disappointments, the blessing will come. I do not say that the blessing will come in the exact form you ask; but it will always so come as to reveal to you the wealth of God"s goodness and grace, for the end of your faith will be the salvation of your souls. And where shall you gain this faith? Where shall you gain this "Courage, your fainting heart to keep, and trust Him, though He slay"? I know of no place where faith can be gained save at the cross of our Lord. There we can believe that all things must work together for good; there we can believe that God who did not keep back His only Song of Solomon , but freely gave Him up for us all, will also with Him freely give us all things. There we can believe that God is Love, and believing that, we can rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him, assured that He will fulfil our heart"s desires.


Verses 31-33

Chapter9.
The Healing of the Deaf and Dumb

"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. And they bring unto Him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech Him to put His hands upon him. And He took him aside from the multitude, and put His fingers into his ears, and He spit, and touched His tongue."Mark 7:31-33.

A Ministry to Gentiles.

The healing of the Syro-Phœnician"s sick daughter had just that untoward effect that Jesus feared. It put an end to all His hopes of quietness and seclusion. It spread His name and fame abroad. But our Lord was so "full of grace," as John puts it, that no shade of resentment ever invaded His breast, even when His cherished plans were frustrated by the importunity of the people. When, instead of solitude, He found on the other side of the lake a multitude, His feeling was not one of annoyance; He was moved with compassion, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd. And so now in Phœnicia, when His identity became known, and the crowds began to gather, instead of being vexed and hurrying off to some other place for the quiet He had come to seek, apparently He stayed for a little time to preach to them and minister to their needs. Just as He availed Himself of the opening made for Him at Sychar by His conversation with the woman at the well, and seeing the fields white already with the harvest, remained there two days, so now, seeing a "great and effectual" door opened to Him amongst these pagan people of Phœnicia, He tarried there some time, preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God. He visited Tyre, and then travelled northward along the shore of the Mediterranean to Sidon, and there, taking a circuit round, along the southern slopes of Lebanon and Hermon, He made His way along the east bank of the Jordan through the midst of the borders of Decapolis, until at length He came to Galilee again. It must have been a memorable journey, and it rejoices one to think that Jesus Himself preached to Gentiles and to heathens. No record of the preaching has been preserved for us, and yet there are hints that it met with abundant success, for in after days Jesus quoted the reception given to Him in Tyre and Sidon as a melancholy and damning contrast to the unbelief of the cities of Galilee.

At Decapolis.

It was apparently not in Galilee, but in the borders of Decapolis, that our Lord performed the miracle we now are to consider. It was not by any means the only miracle He performed on His way back. Matthew tells us that "there came unto Him great multitudes, having with them the lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and they cast them down at His feet; and He healed them: insomuch that the multitude wondered, when they saw the dumb speaking, the maimed whole, and the lame walking, and the blind seeing: and they glorified the God of Israel" ( Matthew 15:30-31). You notice that last phrase, "they glorified the God of Israel." It implies that many of those present were heathens. It is the confession forced from pagan lips and pagan hearts by the sight of the Lord"s mighty works that the God of Israel was the King above all gods. And it exactly suits such a half heathen region as we know Decapolis to have been.

A Striking Change.

Now the fact that such multitudes crowded upon Christ in Decapolis is very significant. It argues such a change of temper and feeling. For Christ had been into the borders of Decapolis before. In Mark v. we have His visit to Gerasa, which He signalised by restoring to his right mind the man who had the legion. But the story of that visit ends with these words, "they began to beseech Him to depart from their borders" ( Mark 7:17). They were eager to get rid of Christ. They were impatient to see the last of Him. But it was a very different reception He met with on this second passing visit. There was immense excitement and enthusiasm. Wherever He went the crowds followed. And all that they saw constrained them to glorify God.

Its Cause.

Now what accounts for this startling and radical change of manner? What is the reason for this Song of Solomon -different reception? I think I have discovered the reason for it. When Jesus was saying "good-bye" to Gerasa, the healed demoniac wanted, you remember, to go with Him. But Jesus would not permit him, but said to him, "Go to thy house unto thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and how He had mercy on thee. And he went his way," I read, "and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him; and all men did marvel" ( Mark 7:19-20). You notice, the healed man did not confine his witness to his own house and his own friends. He took a wider circuit. He published his wonderful news throughout the whole district of Decapolis. Into every one of the ten cities he went. And everywhere he told the same marvellous story. He told them how Jesus had found him a naked and untameable maniac, a terror to the whole country-side, and how by a word He had reinstated wisdom on her throne, and made a man out of a mere wreck. He spoke, that Isaiah , of the healing and saving power of Christ, and clinched and proved his speech by saying, "He healed and saved me." The result was, all Decapolis was on tip-toe of expectation. All Decapolis, especially the sick and maimed and the distressed of Decapolis, longed that Jesus would visit them. And so it came to pass that when Jesus took Decapolis on His way back to Galilee, the first intimation of His approach brought the crowd into His presence. The healed demoniac had been a most effective preacher. His witness to the healing and saving power of Christ made others eager to try Christ too.

The Need of Witnessing.

In all of this there is an obvious lesson for us. We complain oftentimes of the indifference of our time. People nowadays do not seem to care for Christ. They show no eagerness to come to Him. They do not seem to think He can do anything for them. I wonder whether the indifference may not largely be our fault. Have we borne our witness to Christ"s healing and saving power? Have we told them what great things the Lord hath done for us, and how He had mercy on us? Have we told them how He brought us pardon, peace, joy, and immortal hope? The witness of Christian people does infinitely more for the truth than any amount of preaching. Only the life must confirm the witness. That is to say, when you bear your witness that Christ has brought you pardon and peace and joy and hope, your lives must obviously be seen to be full of the pardon, peace, and joy of which you speak.

Are we witnesses?

Do we bear that witness? Do we rejoice to tell people what Christ has done? And do our lives show that they are great things which He has done? Do you think, if men really knew that Jesus bestowed these great gifts they would remain indifferent and unconcerned? As a matter of fact, these are just the gifts men most deeply crave. For men are burdened by sin, they are harassed by fear, and they want forgiveness, peace, a settled hope. If only they saw that we obviously possessed these things, if they only saw that Christ really had bestowed them upon us, they too would turn to the Lord with eager hearts, saying, "Be merciful to me, and bless me also, Thou Son of God." The healed demoniac turned hundreds to the Lord. There is nothing still so potent to make men seek the Saviour as the testimony of the saved man.

The Deaf and Dumb Man.

Now, out of this multitude of acts of grace done upon the sick and the suffering of Decapolis Mark selects one for full and detailed description. It was the case of a deaf-stammerer. And I suppose that the reason why Mark picks out this particular miracle for detailed treatment Isaiah , as Archbishop Trench says, because it was signalised by some incidents which had not occurred on any previous occasion. It is really the conduct of Jesus Christ that the Evangelist wishes to emphasise. The miracle is not recorded—if I may so put it—because it was such a wonderful miracle. Christ did many a deed far more startling and amazing than that. The healing of this deaf and partially dumb Prayer of Manasseh , from the point of mere wonderfulness, was not to be compared with the stilling of the storm or the feeding of the5000 , or the raising of Jairus" daughter from the dead. No; this miracle is recorded, not for the greatness of the act itself so much as for the conduct of Jesus. That is what has stamped itself indelibly upon the memory of Peter. He can recall every detail of what happened. He can remember how Christ took the man aside privately; how He put His fingers in his deaf ears; how He spat and touched his tongue; how He looked up to heaven, and then groaned in spirit, and how finally He spoke that word of command, Ephphatha, "Be opened," and how as a result the man"s "ears were opened, and the bond of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain."

Different Cases, Different Treatment.

Now, if it be true, as it probably Isaiah , that this incident has been preserved for us because of a certain peculiarity in Christ"s treatment of this deaf and dumb Prayer of Manasseh , then that very fact has a lesson of quite infinite importance to teach, viz, this: different men require different treatment. Christ Himself was never tied down to one stereotyped method. The friends of this deaf and dumb man take upon themselves to suggest a method to Jesus. They beseech Him that "He would lay His hand upon him." That—shall I say?—was the regulation and usual method of conveying visible power. Christ Himself occasionally employed it. "He laid His hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them" (vi5). But this time Jesus will not adopt that method. There was something about this man that required different treatment. I suppose, if, like Jesus Himself, we knew what was in Prayer of Manasseh , we should see the reason why He employed varieties of methods in dealing with different persons—why, for instance, the woman with the issue of blood was healed in the crowd, and made to declare herself before the crowd; while this deaf and dumb man was taken aside privately to be healed; why the nobleman"s servant was healed at a distance and by a word, while He laid His hand upon the leper and touched him; why He volunteered help in the case of the impotent man at the pool of Bethesda, and in the case of the Syro-Phœnician woman had to be appealed to again and again; why in the majority of cases He employed nothing but word or touch, while in the case of the man born blind He sent him to the pool of Siloam to wash, and in the case of this deaf and dumb man He touched his tongue with His own saliva.

—With good Reasons.

If, I say, we knew everything about Prayer of Manasseh , we should know why Jesus used a particular method in any particular case. For we may be quite sure of this—that the particular method was adopted not through whim or caprice, but because in some deep way it met the special need of the particular case. We may think we see the reason in this case and that; we may think we know why He volunteered help to the impotent man; we may think we know why He made the shrinking woman declare herself; we may think we know why He "touched" the leper. But whether we know or do not know the reason, we are sure there was one. We are quite sure, if we knew everything, we should see in the special method adopted in each particular case evidence of the wisdom of God.

The Lord"s Diversities of Operation.

But the main point for us to notice is that Christ has not one stereotyped method of bringing His gifts of healing and grace to men. He has diversities of operation. He adapts His method to the special case. He studies the individual soul. I wonder sometimes whether we do not forget this simple truth. In some quarters there is a tendency to limit and narrow the workings of Christ, to say that only in this way and that can He approach the soul. There are those who seem to think that Christ can only confer His blessing through one particular Christian communion; that He has only one "channel of grace"; and that only through that one channel can His healing and saving power be conveyed to the individual soul. So also there are those who seem to think that Christ has only one particular method of saving souls—that a man must have a kind of volcanic experience, a sudden upheaval of the whole nature, such as, let us say, Paul had on the way to Damascus, or the jailor had in Philippi, or Colonel Gardiner had in Paris, or the multitudes had who listened to John Wesley"s and George Whitefield"s preaching. They are inclined to doubt the reality of the salvation of the man who had never had any such revolutionising experience, who, as Dr. Campbell Morgan once said, cannot remember having been born again.

—But the same Spirit.

The Example to be followed.

What we need to learn Isaiah , that Christ has more than one method of dealing with souls. There are twelve gates into the Kingdom—three on the north, three on the south, three on the east, three on the west, and by differing paths men may meet at last in the same beautiful city of God. To forget this, and to deny this, is to limit the Holy One of Israel. Christ, we may be sure, is just as much at home, and can confer His saving grace just as truly in the Salvation Army barracks, or the Quakers" meeting-house, as in a stately cathedral. Christ can save the soul just as surely by the gracious ministries of the home, as by the tumultuous or subduing experiences of a revival meeting. There are diversities of operations; but it will be well for us when we recognise that in and through them all worketh one of the same Spirit If we are ourselves to deal wisely and successfully with men, we must, like our Lord, adapt our method to the special requirements of the case. We are fishers of men. And any man who wishes to become an expert fisherman must, according to Isaak Walton, "study his fish." We, too, must study men, if we are to catch men. All men are not to be won in the same way. What appeals to one does not appeal to another. Well-intentioned but tactless dealing may often repel instead of winning souls. That is what gave Henry Drummond his marvellous power over the students in Edinburgh. He knew student nature. He touched just those chords he knew would respond in every young student"s heart, and so he turned hundreds to righteousness. That is the reason why in these days men are beginning to study boy and child nature in connection with our Sunday Schools. They are beginning to realise that the man"s way is not the child"s way—that if the child"s soul is to be won, they must find the right avenue, and tread it. We need to be wise to win souls, to be expert in the human heart. And if we say such wisdom is not ours, if we ask, God will give it liberally to us.

Christ"s Treatment.

The Symbolic Actions.

And now note two points in Christ"s special treatment of this case. "And He took him aside from the multitude privately, and put His fingers into his ears, and He spat, and touched his tongue" ( Mark 7:33). There are two points to notice—(1) The privacy, and (2) our Lord"s symbolic actions. Let us take that second point first, as it can be dismissed in a word or two. Why did our Lord put His fingers in this man"s ears, and then touch his tongue with the moisture from His own mouth? To quicken and arouse faith. This was the only way Christ could communicate with the man. Deaf as the man was, our Lord could only speak to him by signs. And so He put His fingers into his ears, as if to bore through any obstacle there might be to hearing; and then touched his tongue, as if to convey to it the faculty of His own. And so He quickened expectation and faith, which was an indispensable condition of His every act of power.

The Privacy.

—And its Value.

And why did He withdraw him from the crowd? Not to avoid observation, as some suggest. Not that He Himself might be the more free to pray, as others say; but, as Archbishop Trench says, that the man himself might be more receptive of deep and lasting impressions. This leads me to say that Jesus takes us aside for the very same purpose still. In the din and clamour of the crowded street Christ cannot speak to us: the rush and pressure of life are prone to obliterate and efface the impressions of religion—indeed, often prevent any impression being made at all. And so sometimes our Lord takes us aside into the sick-room, into which the tumult of the world cannot come; into the loneliness and solitude of bereavement, into the wilderness of sorrow, in order that He may speak His words of healing and life to us. We shrink from being taken aside like that; but it is worth while being laid aside from the rush and toil of life, if our ears become opened to heavenly harmonies, and we see the King in His beauty. Sorrow often leaves its blessing behind, in a healed and saved soul. In the meantime let us not wait for sickness or sorrow to draw us aside. Day by day let us draw aside of our own accord, that every day our souls may be refreshed, so that renewed we may go from strength to strength.


Verses 34-37

Chapter10.
The Deaf and Dumb Man

"And looking up to heaven, He sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that Isaiah , Be opened. And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain. 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; And were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: He maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak."Mark 7:34-37.

These two points already dealt with do not exhaust the details of our Lord"s action in the case of this miracle. The Evangelist—deriving, no doubt, his information from Peter—says that before He performed the very act of healing our Lord looked up to heaven, and then He sighed, or rather groaned, and then He spoke the word of power, "Ephphatha" "Be opened." Dr. Maclaren has made these details of our Lord"s action the basis of one of his most exquisite sermons, and it is almost impossible to say anything about them without following, however imperfectly, in his steps. But, at the risk of unfavourable comparison, let me say something about these details of our Lord"s conduct, the light they throw upon His character, and the permanent lessons they have to teach us.

The Heavenward Look.

The first thing Jesus did after He had taken the man aside, and by His symbolic action stirred hope within his breast, was this, "He looked up to heaven." It was not the only time that Jesus looked up to heaven before performing an act of power. I turn back to the account of the feeding of the five thousand, and read, "He took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, He blessed, and brake the loaves" ( Mark 6:41). Now why did Jesus look up to heaven? And what did He do when He looked up to heaven? I think the answer is plain and unmistakeable. He looked up to heaven because it was the source of His power, and what He did when He looked up was to pray.

The Secret of Power.

What a lesson there is in all this for us! The heavenward look is still the secret of power. In other words, we can only do our work and win our triumphs in conscious dependence upon God. It is upon Him we must wait. It is to Him we must call. "As the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their master,... so our eyes look unto the Lord our God" ( Psalm 123:2); for apart from Him we can do nothing. Prayer is the thermometer of the Church, people are very fond of saying. It is much more than that—it is the power-gauge of the Church. "This kind," the kind of ills the Church has to fight against and expel, "cometh forth by nothing save by prayer."

—And some Substitutes for it.

Do we cultivate this heavenward look? In what is it that we put our trust? To what is it that we look for power and success? I wonder sometimes whether we do not put our trust overmuch, in these days, in mere mechanical and human devices. I think of some of the methods Churches use to win the crowds—advertisements, music, popular lectures, socials, and the rest. They are, no doubt, all right in their way and place. But conquering power does not come that way. "My soul, wait thou only upon God, from Him cometh my salvation." Notice the sequence in our paragraph: Jesus looked up to heaven, and saith unto him, "Ephphatha" ( Mark 7:34). I The heavenward look issued in the word of power. And still the Church that "looks up" shall be able to speak the word of power: it shall be able to free the prisoner, to cleanse the leper, to save the sinner, to quicken the dead, and nothing shall be impossible to it.

The Groan.

"Looking up to heaven, He sighed." What is the meaning of this sigh, or rather groan, that escaped the lips of Jesus? It is surely a strange thing that, at the very moment our Lord was about to exercise His triumphant power, He should sigh. Some commentators explain it by saying that it was the deep voice of the prayer in which He was at that moment engaged. And others, again, say that what He sighed for was the unbelief of the multitude, upon whom every work of power seemed to be wasted, in that it failed to convince them. Others, again, hold that He sighed at the thought of those deeper ills of the soul which could not be healed by a word, as physical deafness could. And, yet again, Stier ingeniously suggests that Jesus sighed because He realised that the gifts of speech and hearing were so often abused, and might be abused by the very man on whom He was about to confer them—He sighed because He knew that "the gift of hearing is so doubtful a blessing, and the faculty of speech is so apt to be perverted."

—And its Meaning.

But the simplest explanation is the truest and the best. The "groan" expressed, as Dr. Salmond puts it, "Christ"s deep, pained sympathy." Our Lord was touched with the feeling of all our infirmities. He was full of the deepest and keenest sympathy. He was "moved with compassion" at every sight of sorrow. His eyes had been lifted up to heaven the moment before—the land where there is no sickness, no suffering, no pain. And now they are fixed upon an example of the woes and miseries of earth; and possibly the contrast between heaven, with its happiness and perfect health, and earth, with its suffering and pain, called forth this "groan." Our Lord "groaned" over this poor creature before Him, deaf and partially dumb, the mere wreck and ruin of a man. This was not man as God had made him. God looked on all that He had made, and behold it was "very good." This maimed and marred being was man as sin had damaged, defaced and disfigured him. And our Lord "groaned" at the thought of the ravages sin had made in God"s fair world.

—Not a Solitary Incident.

There is another illustration of the same kind of thing in the story of the raising of Lazarus. When our Lord saw the sisters weeping, and the Jews who had come to comfort them also weeping, John tells us, "He groaned in the spirit and was troubled." And again when He came to the grave He groaned in Himself. In the Greek word there is a suggestion of anger and indignation. He groaned with indignant emotion. What was it that stirred this emotion within Him? He groaned with indignant emotion at the disorder of the world, at the pain and suffering and sorrow and death that sin had brought into the world. And so in this deaf and dumb man He saw an illustration of the work of the devil, of the ravage and havoc wrought by sin, and He "groaned "; He sighed—not so much with indignation this time (for the Greek word is not identical with that in John), but with pity and sympathy.

The Pitifulness of Christ.

In this "sigh" you have our Lord"s pitifulness for all needy, suffering, sin-burdened men. He did not walk through life with unheeding eyes and an unfeeling heart. He had eyes to see and a heart to feel. Sorrow always stirred His sympathies. He was "full of compassion." And we too need the pitiful heart, if we are to do Christ"s work in the world. The world is full to-day of the sick and the poor and the suffering and the sinful. We ought not to be able to walk along life"s ways with unmoved compassion. We want a "heart at leisure from itself, to soothe and sympathise." "A heart of compassion" is the first thing Paul mentions in that list of the shining garments of the new man. "Put on therefore, as God"s elect, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion" ( Colossians 3:12). For we can do nothing towards the redemption of the world unless we have the pitiful soul.

The Groan and the Upward Look.

It is worth noticing that the "sigh" or "groan" of our Lord came immediately after the heavenward look. As Dr. Morison beautifully puts it, "The deepest sympathy for man springs from the loftiest communion with God." The fact Isaiah , we shall only learn to pity as we look up. It is only as we think of God that we learn something of His purpose with reference to man; it is only as we see man as he was meant to be, that we shall pity man as he is. I can conceive of one, who never lifts his eyes above earth and its things, having the springs of pity dried up within him. Here, for instance, is a man who writes, "This world is the best possible of worlds; man as he Isaiah , is as good as he can be; sin and misery are essentially human." We have only to hold a creed like that, and pity will die within us. But if we "look up," and see man as God meant him to be, we shall be filled with deep and unutterable pity for man as he is. Pity springing from communion with God is like a stream which, having its source high up in the eternal snows, flows cool and full, bringing refreshing verdure to the parched fields in the hottest days of summer.

The Look away from Despair.

Then again, as Dr. Maclaren suggests, the heavenward look is necessary to guard us from the pit of despair. If we look simply and only at this world and its miseries, we may easily fall into despair. There is a profound pity in the heart of some of our great Pessimists. Thomas Hardy, for instance, has a deep concern for the sorrows and sadnesses of this world, which with such terrible realism he describes for us in his Wessex novels. It is such a hopeless pity; he sees no remedy or cure. But the heavenward look flashes the gleam of hope into the very eye of pity. "Jesus groaned"; He sighed over the plight of this deaf and dumb man; but it was not a hopeless sigh, for He knew at the very moment that God would enable Him to repair the ravages which sin had made. And so exactly will it be with us; the sight of the world"s sin and pain ought always to stir us to deepest and tenderest pity; but if we look up to God it will never stir us to despair, for we shall know then that God can save to the uttermost, that He can undo and repair the ravages of sin, that He can set the most broken and marred perfect before His throne.

Christ"s Word.

Then, following the heavenward look and the sigh, came the word of power. "Looking up to heaven, He sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that Isaiah , Be opened" ( Mark 7:34). You notice that in this case, as in that of the daughter of Jairus, the very Aramaic word that Jesus spoke has stamped itself upon Peter"s memory and is reproduced here. There is a close connection between the word of power and the sigh and the heavenward look that preceded it. It was the pity of His heart that prompted the desire to help. It was His union with God that gave Him the power to help. Looking up to heaven, "He sighed, and saith, Ephphatha, that Isaiah , Be opened. And his ears were opened, and the bond of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain."

Pitifulness, Prayerfulness an Power.

The lesson of all this for us is obvious. Pitifulness and prayerfulness are the conditions of power. For without pitifulness we shall not have the wish to save the burdened and sin-stained all about us; and without prayer we shall not have the power. But supposing we have the pitifulness, and supposing we have the prayerfulness, supposing we have the sensitive heart and the expectant faith, then we too shall be able to speak the word of power, and we too shall see God"s saving and restoring grace exercised through and by us. Do you not long to see the Church of Jesus Christ speaking the word of power? Do you not long to see it declaring its Gospel with such authoritativeness that men would be convinced and converted by it? Do you not long to see blind eyes opened, deaf ears unstopped, dead hearts quickened? Here are the conditions—a great pity and a great faith. A Church that has great pity for men, and great faith in God, shall have great and irresistible power. And when once the Church of Christ shows that it possesses that power, men will cease to scoff at it and think lightly of it.

—And Results.

Notice what happened as a result of the deed of mercy Christ performed on this deaf and dumb man. "And they were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: He maketh even the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak" ( Mark 7:37). The sight of our Lord"s redeeming power extorted praise from the people, and quickened faith amongst them. "He hath done all things well," they said. And Matthew adds, "And they glorified the God of Israel." Praise and faith on the part of the people will always be the result, when the effects of Christ"s redeeming power are seen. It is only an impotent Church that men scoff at. It is only because the Church has to some extent lost its power of working moral miracles that men treat God with indifference, and speak as if there was nothing in the Christian faith.

 


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Bibliography Information
Jones, J.D. "Commentary on Mark 7:4". J.D. Jones's Commentary on the Book of Mark. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jom/mark-7.html.

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