Clean or Dirty?: Applying Mark 7

What makes you feel clean or dirty? In Mark 7 Jesus challenges our definition of “dirty” and shows us how he willing he is to make us clean.

“I feel gross, really gross,” a friend confided. Immediately I wondered if she had binged on junk food or even been sexually violated in some way. I braced myself to help her. “I’m so sorry. What happened?”

She went on to pour out her tale of breaking her diet, and then falling into a full scale binge of everything she had denied herself for the past few months. She looked so miserable. It wasn’t just her stomach that hurt, it was her sense of failure that was so painful. I knew she had struggled in this area for decades. Now she felt defiled, both physically and spiritually.

My friend didn’t need a pep talk–you can do it!– or some kind of new diet with new rules and promises. She needed her conscience to be washed clean. I pondered how to help her.

Suddenly the three scenes of Mark 7 came together like pieces of a puzzle. I realized they were all about the topic of clean and unclean.

Understanding Clean

In scene 1 (Mark 7:1-23) we have a hand washing problem. This wasn’t an issue of germs or some obsessive-compulsive disorder, it sprang from God’s laws to the Jews about clean and unclean. God intended to educate their conscience by giving them the ABC’s of his holiness. He did this by giving them his Law.

All the laws of the book of Leviticus, for instance, had one main purpose. They were given to train God’s people–starting with Moses and Aaron– in his holy standard for all the details of their lives. Thus he told Aaron, “You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean…(Leviticus 10:10)” and then charged him to teach all Israel to do the same.

“You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean.”

Leviticus 10:10

When God said, “This…not this,” it wasn’t because anything was necessarily wrong with those foods, but because God said it. He was training his people to “live by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Deuteronomy 8:3)” one meal at a time.

If Clean is Good, Cleaner is Better, Right?

Of course, they didn’t live by his word. And neither do we. Centuries of persecution and finally exile convinced the Jews that they needed more laws to ensure they kept God’s law. So they added another layer of man made laws around the Scriptures. These were meant to keep them further away from breaking God’s commandments.

But they didn’t. These “traditions of men” didn’t make them cleaner, they merely distracted the everyday Jew from what God had actually said. Jesus told them they’ve misdiagnosed their disease. It’s coming from the heart.

“There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person that defile him.”

Mark 7:15

It’s not the food we put in our mouths that defiles us. It’s not even the wrongs done to our bodies, terrible as it may be. The hidden evils of our hearts are the source of our uncleanness.

Two Beggars For Clean

I realized my friend wouldn’t benefit from more dietary rules or pep talks. It was her heart that needed help because the issue was her desires. Fortunately, the next two sections of Mark’s Gospel pointed to the solution.

At this point Jesus leaves Jewish territory to get some rest. First he goes northwest to the Mediterranean coast. Right away a Gentile woman found him. She didn’t come with lectures, she came desperate.

Her daughter had an “unclean spirit.” There were many types of uncleanness in this pagan area, but Satan had seized his advantage and taken over the whole person. The mother came begging. But she also came savvy. When Jesus protested that he had come for the Jews first, not for the “Gentile dogs,” she didn’t slink away but parried back “well then, how about a few crumbs?”

Her words showed faith. His healing answer was immediate.

Jesus moves on to another Gentile region, the Decapolis, and is met by the second beggar, a deaf-mute who couldn’t speak for himself. His friends voiced his need and begged Jesus for help.

Without a word, Jesus took the man aside, and in a demonstration of unspeakable mercy, used gestures to indicate that he was healing his ears and his tongue.

One Final Beggar

But there is one more beggar waiting for Jesus. My troubled friend. You. Me. Mark has just showed us the Savior who came to make us clean. We are all beggars, who cannot pay, but only plead. Bring your uncleanness to him. Bring your unclean friends, too.

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