(Mark 7:8…) Jesus’ ongoing beef with the Pharisee seems mostly to be based on the Pharisees impression that life was based on Sacrifice. Most of their traditions centered on external displays of their devotion and sacrifice to God. They had a fine way of twisting the law in order to serve their own purposes that only ever put more boundaries and bondage on people. In their defense, the Pharisee movement was started because they saw so much destruction and brokenness in their society. As is the case with the legalistic religious movements of our own day, their misguided drive to add rules on top of rules came from the idea that if you can’t beat the power of sin, at least we have to try to control it to minimize the disaster it cause in people’s lives. So, over time, things that were good and practical, like washing your hands before you eat, became a religious activity which displayed your devotion to God. Similarly, declaring the money you should use to help your needy parents “Corban” (a gift to God) showed your devotion to God. (Mark 7:12). But as these traditions got more and more twisted and lost their true meaning they effectively put people into bondage instead of showing people that they needed God to rescue them and their sacrifice would never cut it. Jesus says, God told you to honor and care for your parents, and you’ve chosen sacrifice over mercy. You’ve chosen religion over people. People are always more important to Jesus. The Kingdom of Heaven is about Mercy
(Mark 7:14) Jesus then starts to preach the kingdom of heaven again to the people, who I’m sure, were watching very closely to see what the Pharisees would do in this situation. They’d been upstaged and contradicted again by this Rabbi who was turning their world upside down with teachings and displays of power and mercy of the Kingdom of heaven. Jesus takes one of their most basic tradition, rules about food, and basically throws it out the window to get to the root of the problem. The Pharisees teaching were all external and based on external things. What people could and couldn’t eat was a very easy thing to control in order give and appearance of holiness. Jesus says, that is ridiculous and calls into question their teachings. “Nothing that goes into your body makes you unclean, what makes you unclean goes well beyond anything physical; it’s a heart issue.” When Jesus makes all inclusive statements like “nothing that…”, he actually means nothing. It’s a freedom statement. In this case Jesus was debunking all the concepts they had about ceremonial food having any effect on your spiritual condition. Freedom, the Kingdom of heaven is about Freedom.
It’s not always enough for Jesus to declare freedom; in this case he has to define it. People truly believed that their standing with God was based on this external physical act. The tradition was so ingrained in their culture everyone was scratching their heads, even the disciples. This statement that might seem so simple to you and I, would have been culture shattering. The ideas of ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ were so strong that their entire society functioned around it. What you ate determined if you were clean or unclean. Your health determined if you were clean or unclean. Your clothing determined if you were clean or unclean. How you did business determined if you were clean or unclean. And Jesus pulls the rug out from under the whole system and says, “Eat whatever you want, it doesn’t matter a lick. What matters is you’re all broken from the start. You’ve got a heart disease that has nothing to do with your diet; it goes much deeper. And all the junk that comes out of your life is a symptom of that bigger disease, the symptoms do not cause the condition. (Mark 7:20-23) Then Jesus leaves. He leaves them without the answer or the cure to the sin problem. Perhaps he was frustrated, he certainly was with the disciples (Mark 7:18). Maybe he just knew they had to digest the freedom he’d just served them before they could hear the rest of the treatment plan for fixing the clean-unclean dilemma.
Whatever the case, Jesus moves on and displays the freedom and power he was revealing to Pharisees, disciples and crowds. He went to someone’s house and tried to hide out for a bit, tired and needing a rest from all the Kingdom of Heaven mania that been going on I suppose. But the Kingdom of heaven is hard to hide when there are people in great need around. A Gentile woman shows up. Now she is free from all the Pharisees religious baggage, God’s law wasn’t for her people. So she seems to have no trouble breaking the cultural and religious norms in order to get to only one she knows can help her. She falls at Jesus feet and begs him to heal her daughter who is tormented by a demon. So even though she wasn’t wrapped up in the religiousness of the Jews, she knew the kingdom of Darkness was real; her daughter was bound to it.
Jesus response seems strange to us, “First let the children eat all they want, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” But the woman recognized the cultural nuance. She new enough to know that the Jews were considered God’s chosen people, God’s children. She would have heard that Jesus was bringing a message of freedom and life to the Jews who were bound in religious tradition. She wasn’t interested in that, she was just looking for crumbs. Her response to Jesus, “even the dogs under the table get to eat the children’s crumbs.” Like the woman who just reached out to touch the fringe of Jesus robe and gets healed, she was desperate for a touch of God to set her daughter free, just a crumb would be enough.
And Jesus does it. “Good answer”, he says, “you’re daughter is free.” She got up and went home to find her daughter restored. Jesus didn’t ask here any questions about her religious performance, her family lineage, her acts of devotion towards God, her pour choices, her sacrifices. He saw her need, her desperation, to see the kingdom of heavy bring mercy and freedom to her daughter. She got to see it; the Kingdom of heaven’s freedom and mercy in full display, with no religious pomp and circumstance anywhere in sight.
Jesus opened the door to us in this miracle. To this point his message had been to the Jews, but he opened the Freedom and Mercy up to the rest of us through this act. The door is wide open to us, if we knock he’ll open it. If we through ourselves at his feet and see that he’s the only one who can rescue us from the heart condition we’re all born with, he will rescue us. It was promised and guaranteed when he went to the cross to die and take our punishment for sin that got up three days later, alive and well to beat it’s great power over us; death. So now experiencing the freedom and mercy is wide open to us, it’s the reality of following Jesus.
No special diets, no special ceremonies, no special religion required.