Mark 7–8. Four Remarkable Miracles Done Around the Dull Disciples.

Key Notes: The venture into Phoenicia. Dogs and puppies. This time He fed 4000. Soft bread and hard hearts.

Following His discourse on the nature of man’s sin, Jesus left Galilee and journeyed north into Gentile territory, and coastline of Phoenicia. What was He intending to do?

7:24–30 Mark says He wanted to be hidden. Was He seeking a rest? There were times when He was obviously tired. He slept through a storm in the boat. (4:38). When the disciples returned from their first missions trip, He tried to get them away for a rest. (6:30). Twice in this section He will sigh. (7:34, 8:12). It all suggests that a rest was needed.

But “immediately” a Greek, Syro-phoenician woman came in and fell at His feet, begging healing for her daughter. He was known in the area because people had come to see Him from Tyre and Sidon. (3:8). Was her plea a coincidence, or had Jesus come to meet her need? His meeting with the woman of Samaria was planned. (Jn.4:4). Coming by boat to the Gadarene demoniac through a storm looks deliberate. I think Jesus came to minister to this Gentile woman as well. So I think He came both for a rest and a mission. Usually His rests were sacrificed.

But He emotionally walked past this Gentile woman as He had walked past the disciples at sea (6:45) and the two on the road to Emmaus. (Lk.24:28). He referred to her as a house-pup, not privileged to share Israel’s rights as God’s children, His chosen people. Mark does not mention who was listening in, but Matthew (15:23) tells us that the disciples were there and were irritated by her crying, which may have gone on for some time.

Mark shows us only the encounter with the woman, so while there was a message for the disciples, as Matthew suggests, Mark gives the woman center-stage. This was a complex interchange.

She fell at His feet and begged Him to cast out her little daughter’s demon.
“Let the children be fed first”. He is speaking in metaphor, telling her that His priority is for ” the lost sheep of the house of Israel. “ (Matt.15:24).
“…for it  is not right to give the children’s bread and throw it to the pups.” (Gentile children have no priority.)
But she will not be denied. “Yes, Lord”. (She is the first person in Mark to address Jesus as Lord. She is confessing her relationship to Him.)
“….even the puppies under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” She reads Him clearly. She will happily take the scraps left over from His work with the Jews—more than enough for her need.

A master teacher knows how to challenge the student to get the best from her. She said it right and won her request--as I believe He knew she would. She answered with the humility of a little child. “Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt.18:4). Jesus exorcised the  evil spirit at a distance. She found her little daughter at home resting in peace. Then He was gone again from Tyre and Sidon.

On Dogs. Street dogs of Israel were dirty, untamed and dangerous. The NT writers use the word “kuon “, “dog”, not only for Gentiles, but for apostate believers and evil people in general.

 Jesus said “Do not give dogs what is holy and do not throw your pearls before swine.” (Matt.7:6).
“”Look out for the dogs, look out for the evil-workers, look out for those that mutilate the flesh”, Paul said. (Phil3:2)
Peter summarizes a chapter about false teachers who deny Christ, exploit people and “indulge in shameful lusts,” calling them disgusting dogs. (IIPet.2:22)
“Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators….” (Rev.22:15)

Kunarion, the diminutive, means little dogs, house-dogs, puppies and has a quite different connotation. This is its only use in Scripture and only in reference to the Syro-phoenician woman. She read its meaning and reflected it back to Jesus.

Many commentators (politically correct) are quite sure that Jesus did not know what He was doing in this encounter, and that it was the task of this pagan woman to teach a rabbi, a Jewish male chauvinist how to treat women. He did not come to help her; she came there to help Him? They are of the Ebionites who thought Jesus was merely a good prophet. On the contrary, John says,

“…He knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for He Himself knew what was in man. “ (Jn.2:25)
“…Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. “ (Jn.6:64)

Jesus’ priority for the lost sheep of the house of Israel will be echoed by Paul. The Gospel is to the Jew first and also the Gentile. (Rom.1:16). Paul’s policy was to go to the synagogue first and turn to the Gentiles when rejected by the Jews. He became the apostle to the Gentiles by default (Rom.15:14–21) and for that we are eternally grateful.

7:31–37 Jesus went through the ten cities of Decapolis, following up where the Gadarene have previously given his testimony. (Mk.5:20). Jesus was preaching the Gospel to a mixture of Jews and Gentiles! A group brought Him a man to be healed who could not speak or hear. We understand that the inability to hear sets the stage for inability to speak because speech is the imitation of sounds, so this man may have been deaf from birth. He healed the man by His touch and sent the man away talking, with his enthusiastic supporters who refused to be silenced. “He has done all things well.” This was His second miracle among these Gentiles.

8:1–10. There was a crowd around Jesus in a desert place. They had used up their supplies in this three-day conference. He had compassion on them. He would not send them away hungry and risk them fainting on the way. He asked the disciples and, as before, they had no ideas. So He patiently asked what they had for food and took seven loaves and a few small fish and gave them to the disciples to distribute. They fed 4000 men (and probably three times that many women and children) and had seven baskets of broken bread and fish left. Then he sent the crowd away and got into the boat.

This is the account of a second mass-feeding. Some of the critics assume that feeding 5000 (6:30–44) and feeding 4000 are two versions of the same event. Jesus pointed out that they were separate, and that the disciples had not learned much from either miracle. 8:18–21

During this time the disciples made at least five crossings of the Sea of Galilee and perhaps some of the trips were restful when the wind was favorable, the sea was quiet and there were no crowds. A little bit of peace.

8:11–13 This time at Dalmanutha (an unknown site), the Pharisees came up asking for a signthat they hopoed would not work. Jesus sighed deeply and said no sign would be given to this generation, His contemporaries. Matthew adds one phrase to the statement “…the sign of Jonah.”  referring to His death and resurrection. (Matt.16:4). That sign was lost on His generation.

What more did they want? His work and His reputation were well known. As He had said to the disciples of John the Baptist:

“Go and tell John what you hear and see:
the blind receive their sight
and the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed
and the deaf hear,
and the dead are raised up,
and the poor have good news preached to them,” (Matt.11:4–5)

He got into the boat again to cross over. However, the disciples had forgotten their provisions and had only a loaf of bread in the boat. Jesus warned them against the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod. When they heard  “leaven” they thought “bread” and misinterpreted what He said. He was speaking of the pervasive influence of His opposition which like yeast in dough, permeated Jewish society. But their preoccupation with bread indicated that they were worried about themselves and Jesus had another intense teaching moment with them.

8:22–26 At Bethsaida, a group brought a blind man to be healed. Jesus led him out of town and healed him in two stages. At first he saw only gross outlines, the remembrance of past sight; on the second application, the man had full vision. Jesus sent him home. This is Jesus’ only two-stage healing and it is unexplained.

Leaven (8:15) is a metaphor for evil and describes the pervasive and widespread effects of the unbelief of the Pharisees and of Herod. Their perspectives were quite different. Herod feared Jesus as the reincarnation of John the Baptist whom he had killed. (6:16). The Pharisees saw Jesus as a threat to traditional Judaism. But they were united against Him in their unbelief, and were conspiring with the Herodians to destroy Him (3:6) because He was a threat to their authority. And beside that, any widespread disturbance threatened to bring down the Roman army against them. As Caiaphus later told the Council,

“ You do not understand that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people and that the whole nation should not perish. “ (Jn.11:50)

The disciples’ unbelief was different. Jesus challenged the disciples’ preoccupation with bread, their daily food. After helping Jesus feed thousands on two occasions, watching Him walk on the water and stop the storm, raise the dead, open the ear of the deaf and the eyes of the blind,  they did not think that He would take care of their food needs. They forgot His teaching in the Sermon on  the Mount about not worrying what they would eat. (Matt.6:25–34). Their hard-heartedness was not cruel or heartless. It is not like the hardness of heart of the Pharisees and Herod, that was fearful and hateful. Their resistance was passive. They had not yet changed their basic attitudes toward Him. They were talking among themselves, trying to take care of themselves. Jesus was not in their calculations. He could do these bread miracles but that did not get them any bread. They were in unbelief. They simply didn’t get the connection.

His rebuke was stinging. He asked them if they were not the same as the crowd that could not understand the parable of the sower and the seed and He quoted the same verses to them. 4:12

“Do you not yet perceive or understand?
Are your hearts hardened?
Having eyes do you not see,
and having ears do you not hear?
And do you not remember?”

They were in the midst of miracles, yet to them it was like a play on a stage. He staggered their imagination. He couldn’t really walk on water!? It could not be real. Where did all that food come from? They could not handle it. Could we? We are in the same boat.

The disciples’ sin—unbelief—sounds like the most innocent of sins. We know they are going to be solid in faith eventually. But their behavior is all the more surprising if we recall their recently successful itinerant missionary work. How could the “apostles” (6:30) now appear so dull? Berkouwer says their behavior— and sin in general—is a riddle.

In  his book on sin, Berkouwer devotes a chapter to “The Riddle of Sin” and makes much of the disciples’ unbelief.

“There is a process that turns revelation into a riddle because of man’s own guilty ignorance. The two men on the way to Emmaus were reprimanded for being ‘foolish men, and slow of heart’ (Lk.24:25); and the Gospels repeatedly call those who do not understand the meaning of Christ’s words ‘foolish men.’  Listen to the judgment of Scripture: ‘are you also still without understanding? Do you not see…?’ (Matt.15:16–17; Mark 7:18). ‘Do you not yet perceive or understand? ‘ (Mark 8:17). ‘Do you not remember? ‘ (8:18). ‘Are your hearts hardened?’ (8:17). ‘Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?’ (8:18). All kinds of historical and psychological factors may darken our understandings, and things may stand before us as a ‘riddle’. Men’s  eyes were distracted and they were unable to see the significance of Christ’s cross and resurrection. (cf. John 2:19ff). “
( Sin. G.C.Berkouwer; Eerdmans,’71. p.131)

“The Spirit of God convicts the world of sin ‘because they do not believe in Me.’ (Jn.16:9).” “We do not read of a variety of sins but only of a single, all-inclusive ‘unbelief.” (Op. cit. p. 223).

“Here then is the sin in all sin, not in a general moral sense or in the sense of a formal transgression of the law, but rather in the sense of the lawless reality of sin which is both defined and made known in this relation to Jesus.” (Op.cit.p.224)

The sin of unbelief is the original sin: Adam did not believe he had to obey God’s command. Although some say the tap-root of sin was pride or selfishness, the basic issue was “Has God said…?” Eve distrusted the goodness of God. Their sin was unbelief, generic sin. It is the universal sin that infects all of mankind. The song goes "I did it all; and I did it my way." We all do it. Who can understand it?

"Hence infidelity was at the root of the revolt. From infidelity, again sprang ambition and pride, together in ingratitude; because Adam by longing for more than was allotted him, manifested contempt for the great liberality with which God had enriched him.. It was surely monstrous impiety that a son of earth should deem it little to have been made in the likeness [of God], unless he were also made the equal of God."
(Institutes of the Christian Religion. J. Calvin. Eerdmans,’57; Vol.1, p.213)

What shall we say? We are with the distraught father of the next episode.
            “I believe; help my unbelief!”

PS. Jesus had compassion on the masses and would not let them go hungry. Although gifts of food are not a long-term solution to the world’s needs, we should be moved by the compassion of Christ for the homeless of our streets as well as the orphans of Africa.

PPS I was assigned to teach a graduate student the fine morphology of blood cells. At that time I had had 30 years of experience as a teacher of morphology. I decided to work with two cells (L, M) that are easily confused. After drawing a picture of each, I showed the student several examples on a slide and then asked him to identify five cells. He got them all wrong. I went over the diagrams again and showed him more examples on the slide. I asked him to identify five more L and M cells. He got them all wrong. I looked at him in amazement. Why don't you see what I see? He said "I don't believe you." Now I was more amazed. "If you don't believe me, how can you learn?"