Many believe Mark was written to a Gentile audience. Mark does a lot more explaining of Jewish customs and terms than the other Gospel writers do. Mark also spends time talking about Jesus on the east side of the Sea of Galilee, which can be thought of as a lot more Gentile than on the west side of the sea. In Mark you see Jesus cross the sea back and forth and teach and do miracles on both sides. One reason he feeds 4000 and 5000 could be because the miracles are done with different audiences (Jew/Gentile) on different sides of the sea.
After walking on the water (Mark 6:45-56) they land in Gennesaret. Jesus probably still among Jews at this point in the journey. They know him and know about his power to heal the sick. Later in the chapter Jesus will enter predominantly Gentile areas and do healings there as well. But in the mean time the Pharisees come to Jesus and begin to question him about purification and defilement. The Pharisees believed that all Jews should abide by the priestly code. Ben Witherington points out that the Pharisees believed in the priesthood of all believers…just not the way we mean it! N.T. Wright handles this chapter exceptionally well in his book Mark for everyone. He says the real issue in this passage is what does it take to be a good Jews (p. 87). I think it sums up like this. People started with LAW. Then it became LAW + tradition. Then LAW/TRADITION. Eventually it got flipped to TRADITION + law. Jesus cites the Corban tradition as something that could violate God’s law and was an example where the traditions of men became something that outweighed God’s law (7:8-13).
Jesus goes on to explain what he is talking about with some bathroom humor. He talks about what goes in and what comes out. His point is that outward purity and the appearance of holiness is a piece of cake. Inner holiness and purity is an entirely different thing and is much more difficult to maintain. Jesus is saying that if you find yourself doing and thinking unholy things it is because what is on the inside is impure. Our attitudes and actions become a holy thermometer to tell if we are spiritually well or spiritual sick. I heard a guy on the radio the other day say that his wife withholds sex from him so he occassionally hires prostitutes. He rationalized it by saying he is a good guy, doesn’t break the law, and keeps food on the table so what does it matter if he hires a prostitute. Jesus says if the heart is unclean the whole person is unclean. Rationalize all you want, it doesn’t make it right.
And as if his teachings against the Pharisees ideas of purity wasn’t enough he marches from there straight into Gentile country (Tyre) where he runs into a Gentile and heals her daughter (7:24-30). I was under the impression that this person happened into Jesus Jewish world and Jesus made an exception for her. The truth is Jesus went on her turf and it is no accident Jesus ran into a Gentile because that is where Jesus chose to travel. Then Jesus goes through Sidon into the region of the Decapolis (sound like a very Jewish place?). Jesus is going right into the heart of Gentile Country and he is healing people and goes on to feed the 4000 in chapter 8, which I am thinking at this point are Gentiles…just a guess. In 8:13 we see that Jesus and his disciples got back in the boat and went back to the other side of the sea (back to the predominantly more Jewish side of the sea).
There is an interesting connection between Mark 7 and Acts 10. In Mark 7 Jesus teaches about purity rules and the need to put what God says over the traditions of men. In 7:19 Mark makes a side note that Jesus was declaring all foods clean (where else do we hear that? Acts 10). Jesus goes on to travel right into the heart of Gentile country and heal people and perform miracles. In Acts 10 Peter is on the roof. By the way, it is thought that Mark got his gospel story from spending time with Peter. Peter gets a vision from God that also declares all foods clean (10:15) and he is immediately sent off to Gentile country to convert Gentiles to Christ. The parallels are pretty striking.