Read Mark 7:1-23
As has been noted, John Mark was probably the son of a Jewish mother (Mary, Acts 12:12) and a Gentile father. He wrote his gospel in Greek, and it appears to have been written for a gentile community, possibly in Rome where Peter had been martyred. The Christians in Rome had been evangelized by Paul and were not of Jewish origin. They would not have been expected by either Paul or Peter to follow the Jewish rituals or traditions. So the message in today’s reading would have been of some comfort to them.
Questions abounded in the early Christian community about keeping the traditions of the Jews and fulfilling the Law. The question of circumcision was dealt with repeatedly by Paul; and the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 settled the question of the need to follow the strict legal code of the Old Covenant. James said at that Council, “my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God,but should write to them to abstain from the pollutions of idols and from unchastity and from what is strangled and from blood (vv. 19-20)”. Nevertheless, questions were still raised from time to time, and Paul notes that even Peter was occasionally caught up in the controversies. Paul reports that, “when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party (Gal. 2:11-12)”.
Mark sets his readers at ease with our reading today. He records that Jesus gathered the crowd and said, “Hear me, all of you, and understand:there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him.” And later, Paul explains the purpose of the law in Galatians 3, and in chapter 5 concludes, “if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.” That is indeed Good News.