Dear church,

It seems the sigh of Jesus and the release of these words, “Be opened,” might be the theme of this chapter.

There is much here for Jesus to sigh about. He must have been tired. The crowds were always crowding him, pushing in with their desire for healing. Jesus’ efforts to stay hidden were unsuccessful. The people simply kept coming. The Syrophoenician woman found him in the house. The crowd located him in the Decapolis. Earlier, they simply were trying to touch the fringe of his garment. Jesus must have been tired.

And he must have been tired of the concerns of his critics – the endless bickering about food and eating. Originally (in Chapter 2), they were stressed about Jesus’ eating with tax collectors and sinners. And they were stressed about Jesus’ disciples lack of fasting (not eating). And they were stressed about his disciples picking heads of grain on the Sabbath. And now in Chapter 7, the concern was about hand-washing before meals. So much to criticize about such trivial issues!

At the end of this, Jesus was brought a man who could neither hear nor speak properly.  The crowd was there again. The crowd always seemed to be there. The man’s friends begged Jesus to heal him. Well, what could Jesus do? And Jesus first pulled the man out of the crowd. Then he laid his hands on the man as requested – on his ears and on his tongue – and Jesus looked to heaven and sighed.

To live in a world with so much brokenness sometimes leaves us with nothing more than a sigh. We look to heaven, and we let the air out. We’re tired with all the effort. We’re frustrated with all the roadblocks. We wonder whether things ever will straighten up. This is a time in America where we look to heaven, and we sigh. We live in a world of turbulence. If the national news doesn’t bother us – with all the heated rhetoric and insults and dire language – the local face mask ordinance will.

And we sigh. Jesus sighed. And Jesus said to the man – or to the man’s ears and mouth – “Be opened.” A weary Jesus was releasing clogged up ears to hear and a stopped up mouth to speak. They were to “be opened.”

Perhaps this was the solution after all – a divine opening of closed off things.

Jesus made an important move in this chapter, and it had everything to do with closed things becoming open. He declared all foods clean. It’s not what you put in your belly that matters, he said. It’s what comes out of your heart. Jesus marked the end of the works of the law.

Good standing with God is not about making sure you eat with the right people. It’s not about making sure you fast two days a week. It’s not about how zealous you are about keeping the Sabbath. It’s not about washing your hands before you eat. Good standing with God is not about what you put into your body. It’s about what comes out of it.

Jesus was breaking open a table where all could come and eat.

“Be opened,” Jesus said. I wonder whether he was thinking about these things as he healed that man who was deaf and mute. And I wonder whether his sigh was a look forward – knowing his church would take a long time to learn the lesson.

Years later, the apostle Paul would have a harsh confrontation with the disciple Peter over this very issue. Peter gave in to the idea that not all foods are clean – that not all people can be clean – and he stayed away from meals with non-Jews in certain instances. Paul said it plainly: It was “hypocrisy.”

Paul wrote in Galatians 2:15-16: “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” Paul was paraphrasing Jesus: “Do you not see that what goes into a person from outside cannot defile him … What comes out of a person is what defiles him.”

Works of the law don’t put us in good standing with God. Only “faith in Jesus Christ” does that. And we see how Mark transitions smoothly from a long conversation about all foods being clean to a statement by Jesus about all people being clean as well.

Jesus went to a private home in Tyre and Sidon – Gentile country – and a Syrophoenician woman begged for her daughter’s healing. Jesus rebuffed her harshly at first, essentially calling her a dog. I think he was testing her. The bread is for the children of God – the Jews. It’s not for the Gentiles. But the dog barked back: “Since everyone seems concerned about eating – even you Jesus! – please know the children won’t be hurt if a few crumbs fall to the floor!”

Active faith. “Be opened.” The gospel is available to all who would come. The works of the law do not justify. Only faith in Christ does that. And anyone can have faith.

The deaf and mute man was in Gentile territory as well. Jesus was making a habit of healing non-Jews. And Jesus sighed. The world is broken. His people were slow learners. But the message remains. “Be opened.” The good news is for you and for me.

We easily can let the sighs get the best of us, especially today. But the fact of the matter is that we’ve been given a gift. We don’t have to earn our salvation. Jesus Christ has extended it to us in an act of supreme, self-giving grace. All we do is trust.

I still don’t think these are days, general speaking, for fasting. “New wine is for fresh wineskins” (Mark 2:22). In days like these, we should double down on the rejoicing. And we should pray even for more hearts to “be opened.”

Chris

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