I am convinced that the Gospel of Mark teaches disciples to first see the ugly within before they fix their gaze on Jesus. John the Baptist didn’t come to “prepare the way of the Lord” (Mark 1:1–8) by causing great geographical shifts — demolition of mountain regions or the filling up of the nearby valleys with earth — no rather, he came to begin a different kind of demolition. His preaching and his baptism sought to demolish the ugly within a person, so that their hearts may see the beloved Son, with whom the Father is pleased (Mark 1:11; 9:7).
Mark employs the majority of Jesus’ Galilee ministry (chapters 1-7) to demonstrate to the reader who is inside and near to Jesus and who is outside and far from Jesus. There are many surprises along the way—like the religious leaders and Jesus’ own family are outside (3:20–35), but the tax collector (2:13–17), the recovering demon-possesed man (5:1–20), and the medically-desperate, unclean woman (5:25–34) are inside.
Chapter seven adds one more surprising round of exclusion and inclusion, just before Jesus takes some intensive time to investigate, instruct, and illuminate the faith of his twelve disciples (chapters 8-9). Controversy once again arises in chapter seven over Jesus’ authority, particularly his authority to establish religious practice and perspective regarding internal, moral cleanliness. In Mark, it is always one’s response to Jesus’ authority that demonstrates whether one is in or out. Here, his authoritative words on what makes a person clean or unclean causes further scandal for the religious leaders (7:1–13). Although the original goal of the traditions of the elders were to prevent law-breaking and therefore the holiness of God’s people, these traditions eventually became a law of their own, at times (like in Jesus’ example) causing the people to actually break God’s law.
Jesus proceeds to speak authoritatively about the origin of uncleanness and evil. We do well to listen carefully. In essence, Jesus instructs that the things outside of us do not make us unclean. Dirty hands do not make me unclean. If I may go further with this, TV doesn’t make me unclean, other men or women do not make me unclean, alcohol doesn’t make me unclean, computers and the existence of filth on the internet doesn’t make me unclean. No. Jesus nails us here. It is what is already in us that makes us unclean. The “want-to” of evil is already within, planted deep within. As he says, “All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:23). It’s sin within; it’s the ugly within that we must first see before on the Savior we fix our gaze. James speaks of this,
But each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires. Then when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death (James 1:14–15 NET).
There is a mess in each of us that we must see; and we must be honest about what is there. We must see and confess the ugly within.
Now, verses 24–30 make me smile. Immediately after this confrontation, Mark tells us of a woman who sought Jesus out. I suggest to you that this woman is on the inside. She is on the inside because she sees the ugly within, and reaches for the only cure for it—grace from God. When she asks Jesus to expel a demon from her daughter, Jesus responds in a way that demonstrates his focus on a ministry to Israelites and calls attention to the woman’s uncleanness as a Gentile. And what does she do? She receives the Lord’s verdict about her uncleanness and the aim of his ministry, and then in humility asks for grace,
Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs (Mark 7:28 ESV).
She is an insider because she agrees with Jesus (“Yes, Lord”) about her uncleanness. She doesn’t resist him or fight him. She knows the ugly within. After agreeing with him, she persists in her quest to experience God’s grace and mercy, and she receives it. Oh, she receives it!
Oh that we would see ourselves as dogs. Just dirty dogs. Yes, Lord; we are dog’s, but give us the crumbs of your grace. Do not pass us by Lord. Thank you for the crumbs.
But wait. Did she just receive the crumbs? Verses 29–30 say,
Then he said to her, “Because you said this, you may go. The demon has left your daughter.” She went home and found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone (Mark 7:29–30 NET).
She sought crumbs, but she received so much more. She received the power of God and the defeat of evil in her home that day. She and her household experienced a major deliverance by the grace of God. But don’t forget that her experience started with seeing the ugly within.