14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”  [f]
17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)
20 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
Jesus reveals what he is saying to his disciples and it actually waxes a little lavatorial. The Bible deals with all aspects of life, so being lavatorial has to happen at some time. The Pharisees, according to the NIV Application Commentary, had a tradition that although urination and defecation were dirty they were not ritually unclean. The situation that the Pharisees may have been addressing was when a person wipes their bottom (or washes it) after they have gone to the bathroom. If going to the bathroom made you ritually unclean, people would be unclean a number of times during the day and have to complete complicated ritual purification rituals. Jesus may be poking fun at the Pharisees who believed you had to be very careful about how you washed your hands to make sure food went into your mouth clean, but when it came out it was all ceremonially clean whether you washed your hands or not. Jesus points out that it is the heart that matters.
Our modern movies often agree that it is the heart that matters. They teach, through their stories, that if you are authentic and holistic then you are basically good. Jesus actually lists all kinds of evil, right down to stupidity, that all people share at some point. Then he leaves people with a great equalizer. The waste speech coming out of our mouths is proof of a heart condition that is corrupt. Forget trying to soften the blow by keeping external purity laws.
Some of the churches I have been involved in have developed a confidence that they have maintained some kind of purity higher than others because of their practices. For one church it might be covering their heads, for another church it would be speaking in tongues, for yet another it would be their hospitality. Because they practiced some hospitality, spirituality or head-wear they masked the fact that they were continuously recipients of grace like those they judged. We could argue they needed more grace to cover their self-righteousness. Many Christians lose the grasp on the constant need of their heart for work and repair because they go from seeing themselves as broken and in need of Christ to fixed. They go from healing themselves to only healing others. Those who are not adept at receiving a deepening healing of their own sin become inept at healing the hurt in others.
Jesus, may your cross be magnified in my life as I see it continuously covering the heart of darkness that is within me. I am happy and grateful because I am worse than even I am aware. You reach in deeper each day and cleanse the stream as my words flow from what is naturally a corrupt source and what is supernaturally redeemed each moment. The world of Ancient Israel justified itself by doing good works and maintaining outward appearances. The world of modern America looks like it has its own set of works-righteousness. People think they are good because they recycle, work hard, and are not a jerk to others. Help us to see that our petty attempts at holiness only reveal more our desperate condition.
- How had the Pharisees challenged Jesus?
- If the Pharisees believed that poop was ritually clean, how does that help us with this passage?
- How does Jesus change our reading of the Old Testament ritual purity laws?
- How do you try harder to clean your act up for family members, work, or church?
- How would church be different if you were humbly authentic about the condition of your heart and your constant dependency on Jesus?