What does it say?

The conflict between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees continues as they confront Jesus about his disciples violating their tradition in the matter of ceremonial hand washing. Later, as Jesus is along the border with Tyre and Sidon, a Gentile woman with audacious faith approaches him to heal her demon-possessed daughter. Back near the Sea of Galilee, large crowds throng Jesus and he again miraculously multiplies bread and fish, this time feeding 4,000 men plus women and children.

Mark 7 also records the dispute between Jesus and the religious leaders over ceremonial hand washing. Mark adds details for non-Jewish readers (7:3-4) to understand that the issue was not hygiene but ceremonial cleanness. The encounter with the Gentile woman with the demon-possessed daughter is here, and Mark adds the healing of a deaf man.

What does it mean?

Without getting lost in the details of culture and religion in this running battle between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders, pay attention to some of the core issues. The Jewish leaders are indignant that Jesus and his disciples were not totally compliant with their traditions. The issue here was never the authority of scripture but the prominence that the leaders had given to tradition raising it to a level all but equal to scripture. There is nothing at all wrong with traditions. We all have them to one degree or another. In fact, traditions can be valuable as reminders or educational tools. Traditions become an issue when people begin to put more faith in them than in scripture.

Do not fail to notice something else going on in this phase of Jesus’ ministry. The woman that comes to Jesus along the border with Tyre and Sidon is a Gentile. Mark calls here a Syrophoenician (Phoenician resident of the province of Syria). Most everything Jesus says and does offends Israel’s leaders. This woman refuses to be offended but insistently pours her heart out to Jesus. Then the deaf man healed as Jesus passes through Decaopolis is also a Gentile. That healing and forgiveness come to the Gentiles was never God’s “Plan B,” but the very heart of his mission from the beginning.

How will I respond?

Can I name three traditions in my persona or church life? Do they serve a useful purpose? Do they tempt me to judge those who do not share them? Have I elevated any traditions to approach the level of scriptural authority? Is there a tradition that I need to put in proper perspective today?