In our reading today we look at the end of the encounter concerning food and cleanliness. Those who separated the gospels into chapters, verses, and topics placed this section together with the section where the Pharisees approached Jesus about His disciples’ hands in Matthew. In Mark’s gospel those same experts separated the two themes. Let’s look at the conclusion of Jesus’ encounter with this group of Pharisees.
Jesus has just put the Pharisees in their place concerning the traditions of the elders verses God’s Laws. The first is completely from man and has NO authority from God attached to it. It is NOT equal in authority to God’s commands either.
Jesus now goes back to the original issue of the food. Jesus wants everyone to hear this exchange so He purposefully gets the entire crowd’s attention. “I want ever eye on me and every ear listening to me for a moment. I want you to understand something.” Jesus wanted the people to understand this lesson. He didn’t try to hide the meaning from them, but once Jesus and His disciples were alone even they had questions about what He just said.
What Jesus wanted understood was that “there is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him. But the things that come out of a person are what defiles him” (verse 15). The Pharisees were saying that because Jesus’ disciples had not washed their hands the ceremonial way that they were now defiled spiritually. I don’t know if they expected this perceived spiritual defilement to affect them physically or not. Were the Pharisees espousing that serious illness or death could result from not performing the ritual? Jesus says that they were completely wrong in these assumptions. Were the Pharisees coercing people through the use of fear tactics to ensure compliance with the traditions of the elders?
Jesus told the people that it’s not what on the outside going in doing the damage but what’s on the inside coming out. That would include the Pharisees tactics as defiling to themselves. The lies they were selling were corrupting them. Their hate speech was eating away at them. Their envy was poisoning their hearts.
When Jesus finished telling the crowd the cold hard facts, He and His disciples left the crowd and went into a house. Jesus’ disciples were uncertain of what He meant when He talked to the people. I’m glad they voiced it, because we get the benefit of His answer too. I wonder if they felt dumb at not understanding or reluctant to ask questions? I pray not. I have heard it said that the only dumb question is the one not asked. Fortunately for us, they asked. And He answered.
Jesus’ explanation would set many free on a couple of levels. First, there is the level of not having to feel condemned every time they didn’t perform the correct blessing or perform the blessing in time. Jesus said that eating food, blessing or not, goes into the stomach and eventually winds up passing out of the body as waste. This doesn’t mean that some foods, by improper preparations or allergies wouldn’t cause you to become physically ill, but that your heart/soul was not affected by the consumption of the food, blessing or not.
The second freedom that came through this teaching is that the restricted diet under the law was no longer an issue. That freedom was actually purchased on the cross with the rest of the fulfillment of the law Jesus provided. Jesus said that none of the foods eaten, “clean” or “unclean”, would defile the soul. No more would spiritual purity be tied to preparation methods or meal choices.
However, what was of utmost importance was what was on the inside; in the heart of man. Those things are what defile him. Jesus’ list of such defiling issues is quite long and covers a lot of ground. Most of us would begin reading the list and say, “I don’t do that, or that, or that…” but when we get near the bottom of the list I bet we find something we can’t say that to. Actually, Jesus started out the list with evil thoughts, so we all get a “gotcha” there.
I want to make a quick distinction between the mind and the heart. When it comes to this list of things Jesus presented, He is referencing what is in the heart of the man, not what passes through his mind. There is a difference. Satan is an expert at sending thoughts our way. I can’t tell you how many times a thought pops into my head that I would NEVER act on or even want to keep thinking about. The kind of thoughts I’m talking about are temptations to do something. Maybe it is to take something that doesn’t belong to you. If you toss that thought out of your mind and move on from it that keeps it from moving into your heart. But if you take that thought and turn it over, examine it, think about how it would feel to do whatever, contemplate the pros and cons, then that thought makes it into your heart. That is when the trouble starts, not when the fleeting thought flies by. As one pastor said, “You can’t stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can stop them from making a nest in your hair.”
So knowing that we have some of these things in our heart, what do we do? First thing is to be honest with ourselves and admit what resides there. There are some with fewer of these heart issues than others, but that doesn’t make their issues any less of a problem. The next step is to turn them over to Jesus by repenting and asking Him to help you deal with them. I’m certainly counting myself in on these instructions. I’m a long way from free of defilement too. But what I am and what you are too, once you turn them over to Jesus, is forgiven.
This is not a quick one time fix. It takes work to sift through the soil and find all the roots to get the full issue out. It also takes constant vigilance and daily weeding to keep those areas from coming back in bloom. If you are anything like me, you will be dealing with the same strain of issues more than once. We all seem to be vulnerable in certain areas and Satan is very adept at bringing different forms of those same vulnerable issues right back into our lives. If you have been with me very long, you might notice that one of my issues is anger or malice. Not maliciousness but snapping turtle syndrome. I snap verbally at those I love when I get frustrated. Sometimes the frustration is appropriate but my reactions could still be better.
Father God, first of all, thank You for the freedoms You provided through Jesus’ work on the cross. Thank You that I don’t have to follow thousands of rules governing every conceivable situation. Thank You for allowing me to enjoy dietary freedoms too. I could use a few moderations here though, but even my indulgences don’t defile me spiritually. (There is a whole nother can of worms there but I don’t think I’m ready to open that one in public yet.)
Thank You for clearly showing me what I do need to be warry of. Those things that I let reside in my heart. Please help me root out all the issues with anger hiding inside. I know we have been working on it a long time, but there is still more to do. Thank You for being patient with me in the process. Thank You for Your forgiveness all along the way. Thank You for the loving and forgiving hearts of my family too. They have endured this walk with me too. They deserve medals! Please help me stop hurting them, period! No more cross words. No more harsh tones. No more snapping turtle answers. Please fill me with Your peace, joy and love. Fill me so full that it drowns the angry plants and washes them completely out of my life. I ask You to do this work in me, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Thank You that I know You hear every prayer. Thank You in advance for the work You are doing in my life.