Jesus has just finished another encounter with the Pharisees. His final remarks to them were, “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person” (verse 11). The Pharisees left after hearing this but they made their feelings known on the matter during their exit.
Jesus’ disciples came to Him right after the Pharisees departure. I’m assuming it was Peter, since he was most often the spokesperson for the group, asked Jesus a strange question. He said, “Do you know the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” (verse 12). No! Say it ain’t so! Sorry, couldn’t resist that. Of course Jesus knew this offended the Pharisees.
I wonder if Jesus’ parable offended the Pharisees because they understood the meaning and knew that it applied to them, or because they had nothing to come back at Jesus with. Several times when Jesus told parables they applied to the Pharisees. And on several of those occasions the Pharisees understood the parable and were none too pleased with Jesus for again pointing out their issues. I believe this one fell in that same group. They knew Jesus was talking about them and their behavior and didn’t want to admit it; not to themselves, not in public, and certainly not to Jesus.
The Pharisees were making it a practice to use their words to teach the traditions of the scribes, instead of God’s commandments. Jesus next words to His disciples demonstrated that God did NOT approve of this practice for instructing God’s own people. God gave the law to Moses exactly as He wanted it communicated. Over the years, His law had been twisted and rewritten to suit man’s ideas and by then it barely resembled the original article. Jesus pointed out one of these distortions earlier in His conversation with the Pharisees.
Even though they were twisting God’s words to suit their traditions, Jesus said to His disciples to leave them alone. God would be their judge. God also had a purpose for them and a part for them to play in His redemption story.
Jesus also told His disciples that the Pharisees were blind guides. They were willfully blind. They had the answer right before them but they REFUSED to see it. They studied the scriptures all their lives. They knew the prophecies, but refused to believe it when it was played out right before their eyes. The worst part of their blindness though was that they were trying to lead the children of Israel. But their teachings were also blinding their charges. Those who bought into their traditions and interpretations were as blind as the Pharisees were. Both these groups were in danger of hell; the pit. This too though, was part of God’s plan.
Peter asks Jesus to explain the “parable” that had so upset the Pharisees. Jesus’ reaction reads like surprise but I believe His statement contained sorrow instead. After all this time with Jesus, the disciples still didn’t get the “simpler” parables. Honestly, without the explanation provided by Jesus, I probably wouldn’t get it either. Maybe my missing the meaning could also be attributed to cultural differences. I’m grateful that Jesus obliged Peter and the rest by giving us the explanation.
Jesus’ explanation would have mothers all over cringing when He says that NOT washing your hands is not going to “defile” you. One could try and argue that He is strictly talking about the ceremonial washing, but I don’t think so. He is talking about actual food being handled with less than pristine hands. This food is sure to contain germs but those germs won’t create a lasting effect on the person. What enters the mouth makes its way into the stomach, then into the intestines, and then exits the body. Yes, diseases can enter through the food eaten, but that still won’t kill the spirit where true life resides.
What lives in the heart is what destroys the spirit. Jesus lists several killers of the spirit. These “killers” start out as thoughts. The next step is when they take root in the mind. Then they begin to grow until they consume the mind and then, if not dealt with, invade the individual’s heart too. The heart is where real life is. Not the heart muscle contained in the body, but the central being; that which makes you unique. Once that has been corrupted by the thoughts passed on down from the mind, the mouth will show evidence of the “killers” in residence. The evidence is the words that we speak. Some examples might be hateful words spoken about another, or filthy jokes meant to degrade others, or even lies told to make oneself look better than another.
If the disciples were anything like me, they probably realized they were guilty of defilement from the words coming out of their own mouths on more than one occasion. No wonder the Pharisees were so angry with Jesus. Their words to Jesus alone certainly qualified them for the defilement rolls too. If we are honest with ourselves, we have all been added to this list at least once in our lives.
So what do we do to keep from falling into this pit ourselves? I can’t give you any pat answer or offer any formula, because I too struggle with this area. James 3 talks a lot about the tongue and how it can get us into trouble. But the tongue speaks what the heart contains and the heart contains what the mind plants there. So it seems to me that the first line of defense is the mind. It is impossible to keep bad thoughts from popping up in your mind. I have two analogies (or parables) that help me in this area, and believe you me, I am FAR from perfect here. These were told to me by a couple of different people many years ago.
- You can’t stop the birds from flying over your head but you can stop them from making a nest in your hair. In other words, evil or unproductive thoughts will come into your mind. It is inevitable. What is NOT inevitable though is you dwelling on such thoughts and letting them “build a nest” in your mind.
- You have two warring wolves that live inside your mind. One is evil, the other good. They are fighting for control. The one that wins is the one you feed the most. In other words, you choose which kinds of thoughts to dwell on and “feed.” Both are vying for your attention but the choice is still yours to make.
I know that practicing these concepts is NOT easy. I can’t do it myself. My ONLY hope is to turn my heart and mind over to Jesus.
Father God, I recognize how badly I have failed in this area of my life. Thank You for the occasional successes You have orchestrated in me. Even thinking back to those successes brings back to my memory the thought we fought down together. Please bury them again under the blood of Jesus. I don’t want to revisit them again. Help me turn my mind back over to You again. Especially the areas where I am harboring anger towards specific people. Those thoughts eat away at my mind and heart. I can’t afford that in my life. Please root it out through Your Holy Spirit. Protect my mind from these destructive thoughts as I am required to continue interactions with the very people I have been poisoned towards. Help me see them as You do. Lord, I also ask that You step in and correct the situations surrounding the personal interactions. Also help me to not allow these difficult areas in my life to overflow and impact the positive relationships in my life. Thank You for Your mercy and grace when I don’t remember to use uplifting words.