In our last article we saw that the Pharisaic tendency to enforce tradition in addition to God’s Word was exposed by the Lord Jesus as Enmity to the truth (7:1-13). The Lord also revealed the danger of Externalism, another Pharisaic characteristic (7:14-23).
Our present section of Mark emphasises the importance of invading our culture with the gospel while not allowing the cultural mindset to invade us. A great help in this truth-war is to know the enemy – to be aware of worldly thinking in order to ensure that we do not imbibe it. Mark continues, from this point, to record Jesus’ challenges to the fundamental characteristics of Pharisaism. He challenged:
The Exclusivism of the Pharisees (7:24-30)
Jesus left the place where the Pharisees had criticised His disciples for their religious uncleanness and went “to the region of Tyre and Sidon” (v24 ESV). This is the only recorded occasion when the Lord travelled outside the borders of Israel. When He was there, “a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet” (v25). The Lord was in an unclean place being accosted by an unclean Gentile woman to remove an unclean spirit from her daughter. The Pharisees would have been most uncomfortable entering this territory and engaging in this conversation. They certainly would have had little interest in the demon-possessed daughter.
The Lord, however, responded to the woman’s pleas: “Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs” (v27). The Lord cited a proverbial statement which simply states that there is an appropriate order to be followed. Children should have priority over canines. This is a creatorial order, and it is recognised by all right-thinking people. However, what was its application to the immediate situation? Just as there is a creatorial order, so there is a covenantal order. A Gentile had no right to claim precedence over Israel, God’s covenant people.
Now this was a test. Did this Syrophoenician woman think she had the right to demand blessing from the Lord? Her answer shows that she understood perfectly. The Lord was under no obligation to respond to her cry, “yet,” it was also true that “the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs” (v28).
Accepting the place of one who had no right to demand, her answer revealed tremendous confidence in the Lord’s character. She recognised Him as Lord, accepted her true status before Him, and implied that He possessed such abundant resources that her need could be met with some of “the children’s crumbs.” She was appealing to grace and expressing faith. Jesus immediately assured her of her daughter’s deliverance.
The Lord once again directs our attention to a deep principle. Grace, which the Lord exhibited, never withholds blessing from any who understand their demerit and exercise faith. Pharisees, wrapped up in their legalism, failed continually to recognise the character of the God whose law they sought to interpret, apply and protect. The Lord never misrepresented God’s gracious and receptive heart towards all.
So the Lord’s interaction with this Gentile woman in Gentile territory resulted in Gentile blessing. This stands as a condemnation of the exclusivism and bigotry of the Pharisees.
The Egotism of the Pharisees (7:31-37)
The Lord left the region of Tyre and Sidon and arrived on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee in the region of Decapolis. Back within the borders of Israel, a multitude brought “unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech” (v32). This man could not hear and could not speak correctly. The multitude appealed to the Lord to “put his hand” of healing upon him.
Rather than immediately acting upon the desire of the crowd, the Lord perfectly assessed the situation. He took the man aside, revealing a personal interest in him, and treated him directly as a precious individual. He gave the man His full attention, and enabled that to be reciprocated. Communication with this man demanded that the Lord accommodate to his limitations; He must speak the language the man understood. He “put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue” (v33). His touch pointed out the need. With the man’s full attention on Him, the Lord dramatically looked “up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened” (v34). The Lord’s actions, and His use of a word which would require little lip-reading ability to understand, communicated unmistakably that divine power and love would bring about the man’s healing through the spoken word of the Lord. The miracle was performed and “his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain” (v35). The crowds reacted in astonishment as the man declared his deliverance. They said of Jesus, “He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak” (v37).
This wonderful story challenges the pride of the Pharisee. Pharisaism in the heart is often expressed by those who consider their supposed dignity more important than human need. Unwillingness to stoop to where people are to lift them up shows a hard, un-Christ-like spirit. The Lord, to reach a deaf and mute man, adjusted His method of communication so that He was easily understood. This willingness to forgo personal preferences to bring blessing to others was a mark of the ministry of the apostle Paul, who said, “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1Co 9:22 ESV).
We must also consider our audience and examine how we communicate with them. Are there barriers hindering communication which we can remove and be better understood? Let us be willing to stoop as the Lord Jesus did.
 This and all remaining Scripture quotations are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.