Summary: The saying "It's all in your head" is truer than we would like to admit. What can start out as something done with good intentions can lead us very far astray save for one crucial ingredient: God's Word.
Jesus, our Ultimate Action Hero came to planet Earth to do battle against a host of enemies in order to set us free. He battled Satan and his hordes of demons, he battled the religious system that had kidnapped people from being able to find God, and today we see him battling even the human mind, which in this broken world has become broken too.
Everything you believe to be true you have made a decision to believe. That decision was based on what your mind told you. But your mind lies! Jeremiah described the mind (calling it the “heart”) as “deceitfully wicked, who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). The deceiving quality of the mind is called “self-rationalization”. Our minds basically justify everything we believe and do. The problem is our minds are broken and so they lie to us. We may think we are doing something out of a pure motivation but in fact we have been deceived. Such was the case for the Pharisees. In their zeal to serve God they ended up serving themselves because they lacked an objective source of truth.
53 – 56
Gennesaret is on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. We visited near that spot at a kibbutz we stayed at while in Israel. I’m sure Jesus’ men were glad just to put their feet on solid ground and rest their weary arms after all that rowing. They were probably even more confused about just who Jesus was—this man who walks on the water as easily as having an evening stroll.
But the people have no such questions. All they know is that Jesus heals, and so word spread quickly. At least at this point, the people recognized and wanted Jesus. Similarly to the woman with the bleeding disorder, word has gotten out that just touching the tassel of his robe would heal them. What is the significance of this? God ordered the Israelites to wear tassels in Deuteronomy 22:12, then explained it in Numbers 15:38. It was to be a reminder to follow the Law. By Jesus’ day it had become a sign of holiness. There was nothing special about Jesus’ tassels; it was Jesus Himself that was special. It is the act of reaching out in trust and reliance on Jesus that heals not some piece of cloth or ritual.
Next, Jesus encounters one of the enemies He has come to conquer—the religious system that had co-opted Judaism.
7:1 – 4
Notice the contrast here. When they reach the shore the people reach out to Jesus, crowd around Him, seeking healing. Then a group of Pharisees and scribes push in to see Jesus, not to seek healing but to find fault. What they don’t realize, of course, is that Jesus will use their very argument against them.
So far the religious leaders had attacked Jesus through His disciples saying they were wrong for not fasting (Mark 2:18), for plucking heads of grain (Mark 2:24), and had concluded Jesus was casting out demons by Lucifer (Mark 3:22). Now they attack the disciples for their lack of ceremonial hand washing. Over the years after the Babylonian captivity, the religious leaders had added hundreds of oral traditions that they considered as binding as the Law. They looked down on anyone who did not follow them. If Jesus really wanted to be somebody, surely he would follow all of their traditions. Not so much.
The genesis for their practice came from Exodus 30:17-21 where the Law called for the priests to wash before performing sacred duties in the laver of the tabernacle. This was extrapolated to the general population as a way to cleanse them of anything that might have made them unclean before eating. This was not washing off dirt—they didn’t understand germs anyway—but was purely ceremonial. But the idea was that something physical could make you spiritually unclean unless you “washed” it off.
The idea had morphed into keeping up an appearance of holiness. It extended well beyond just the hands—to wash off any contact with Gentiles or unclean Jews—but also involved the way they even washed the dishes and the furniture. It’s amazing the lengths we will go to in order to appear like we’ve got our act together on the outside—while inside our character is no in line with God’s—and that is Jesus’ main point.
5 – 7
There is a lot in the accusations the Pharisees and scribes level. First, they are not attacking Jesus personally, but by accusing His disciples it is like they are saying “If you were really a holy man and a rabbi, wouldn’t you have taught your disciples to obey the traditions?”
Jesus pulls no punches—calling them hypocrites. The word comes from Greek theater when actors would wear a mask—making them look one way when underneath the mask they were someone else. “Two-faced” is another way to put it. By the way, this is the only place in Mark Jesus uses this word. The religious leaders appeared “oh so” clean on the outside but they were “oh so” unclean on the inside. He quotes Isaiah 29:13 by saying “Isaiah got it perfectly!”