“And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.’” (Mark 7:37 ESV)
Martin Luther reportedly wrote a note that was found by his bedside when he died in 1546, which apparently said, “We are beggars all, that is true.” When we think of a towering figure such as Luther, we might be tempted to think Christian celebrity . . hero of the faith . . . world-shaking reformer; but, these last words reveal what he thought about himself – a beggar.
Lately, our studies in Mark have taken us to the front row of a battle between Jesus and legalistic leaders. The kingdom of Christ has come to do away with the kingdoms of this world, including the self-righteous kingdom of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. In our most recent expositions, Jesus left the Pharisees speechless as he exposed their hypocrisy and the true nature of their hearts. How humiliating!
But humility, as often as it may be achieved through pride-destroying means, is not something to run from. Rather, we must embrace humility. In fact, the true application of Jesus’ teaching about the heart – that it is filled with sin – should do nothing other than uncover the truth about who we really are. And so, having witnessed such hard rebukes, what is our response?
After humbling the Pharisees, Jesus goes into Gentile territory in Mark 7:24-37. This time, he doesn’t come with sermons about the sinfulness of the human heart, but with tenderness and compassion. He answers the persistent request of a Gentile woman, who begged Jesus to cast the demon out of her child. He opens the ears of a deaf man and fixes his speech impediment after his friends beg Jesus to heal him. What a contrast from the previous episode! Rather than respond with rebuke, Jesus responds with healing. What’s the difference?
Commentators are quick to point out that these events take place among Gentiles as the first, and possibly only, recorded instance of Jesus’ ministry to non-Jews. But it isn’t necessarily their different ethnicity that Mark highlights – it’s their different attitude. The Pharisees saw themselves as righteousness, but these people saw themselves as beggars.
How you see yourself will color how you see others and how you see Jesus. If we think we’re righteous because of rules we keep, we’ll find that our hearts are far from God; if we approach Christ as mere beggars, we’ll find that his heart is close to us.