Chapter seven puts a focus on ministry that Jesus did outside of Israel. Although much of his early ministry was dedicated to the Jewish people, Jesus did not neglect the Gentiles. In a sense, it could be said that the continued rejection that he received from the Jews drove him to Gentile ministry.
The first half of the chapter (Mark 7:1-23) reveals another encounter between Jesus and the religious leaders. What is significant is that, even though Jesus was still in Galilee, these religious leaders had come from Jerusalem, proving that the animosity against Jesus was expanding (Mark 7:1). The issue they had this time was that Jesus and his disciples did “not live according to the tradition of the elders” (Mark 7:5). Although this was not part of the Mosaic Law from God, these traditions had been elevated by the religious leaders to nearly the same level as the Law. In their minds, to violate these traditions was a rejection of their authority as interpreters of the Law.
Jesus’ response was two-fold. To the religious leaders, he called them out on their own hypocrisy, pointing out that they followed their traditions even when they directly contradicted God’s given law (Mark 7:8-13). Following this, he also spoke to the crowds, warning them that true defilement came from their hearts, not necessarily what they touched or ate (Mark 7:14-15). He clarified this to his disciples when they were alone (Mark 7:17-23). For Jesus, the spiritual drives the physical, not the other way around.
Fresh from this attack by the religious leaders, Jesus moved outside of Israel into Tyre, where a woman approached him and asked him to heal her demon-possessed daughter (Mark 7:24-30). This led to a conversation in which Jesus seems harsh or rude to us. Rather, he was pushing her to see if her faith was in him or in his power. Her answer proved what he was looking for, and he healed her daughter immediately from a distance. Leaving Tyre, Jesus remained in Gentile territory, where some people brought him a deaf and mute man, whom Jesus healed (Mark 7:31-37).
A special note in chapter seven regards the several words and phrases that Mark felt the need to explain (Mark 7:3-4, 11, 19, 34). This points to an audience that was not familiar with Hebrew customs and language. See the introduction for more information on his intended readers.