Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “All of you listen,” he said, “and try to understand. 15 It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart.”
17 Then Jesus went into a house to get away from the crowd, and his disciples asked him what he meant by the parable he had just used. 18 “Don’t you understand either?” he asked. “Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? 19 Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.” (By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes.)
20 And then he added, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. 21 For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.” – Mark 7:14-23
I just couldn’t understand high school chemistry. One of my teacher’s favorite lines was a complete disconnect for me: “It’s pretty straightforward to me,” he would say. It was anything but straightforward to me. I simply didn’t get it. My parents even hired a student to tutor me. To no avail. It remained a mystery shrouded in an enigma to me. Not straightforward.
Some things are difficult to comprehend. Sometimes it’s because we just don’t get it for lack of mental capacity. It might be that we don’t apply ourselves. Or it could be that we just don’t want to understand.
I suspect the latter reason is why Jesus made the point, “All you you listen and try to understand.” In other words, this may be difficult because you likely want to think of it differently. You may rather live as though you can hide your motives, camouflage your intentions, and misdirect God’s attention away from your heart’s true state. And if we don’t want to hide our motives we may wish to believe they don’t really matter.
But Jesus calls us to try to understand that our motives really do matter. And it’s not that we can disguise our actions with supposed good motives either. God sees us for who we are – from the outside in. We may wish to paper our walls with protestations of good intent. We might try to justify our failure to do good by claiming to have tried. But God knows both the heart and the hands.
It’s difficult to understand this also because we think of ourselves as basically clean. For that reason we think of being infected by things that come into our bodies – like a virus or germ of some kind. But our trouble is more like a cancer. It grows from within. We can avoid all the viruses and germs we wish, but if the cancer is growing, we’re doomed.
The biggest danger of mere outward righteousness is that it masks the deeper issue of an inner brokenness, trouble, and disease. Seeking to keep ourselves pure by observing religious traditions will never overcome the sin-sickness of our souls. Thankfully Jesus has done that, and poured the Holy Spirit into our hearts. And when the Holy Spirit comes out, life and peace abound (cf. John 7:38).