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 drove home this afternoon (I am writing this on the afternoon before the post goes live). Not very remarkable you might well say. Well, yes and no. Yes, because I do it regularly every workday. I think nothing of it. I take for granted that the traffic will move in a relatively orderly manner. I don’t expect my car to break down on the way. I don’t worry about random road blocks or sudden dangers along the way. It’s a pretty unremarkable thing to do.
So will be our dinner tonight. I give little thought to ceremonially clean or unclean. I have never thought that a certain food would render me unclean, or cut me off from God. These Old Testament dietary laws have never been part of my faith understanding or practice.
So when Jesus calls his disciples to jettison their previous ideas about clean and unclean foods, the reason that this is such a big deal is lost on me. Eat the shrimp! Enjoy the bacon. Give it no thought…except the calorie count and fat content!
I don’t know if we could imagine an analogy that would be similar. Maybe, “Don’t worry about what you wear to worship” would be one. But for many that is a non-issue in the first place.
It seems to me that there is nothing today that we think is forbidden or defiling. Eat, drink, think, watch, act however you wish. It’s all alright. No problem here. Nothing to see. Nothing to worry about.
But we miss the point. Jesus, after all, warned us about this. “Try to understand,” he said. If there are evil things issuing from your heart there is a cancer there that needs to be treated. That pretty well includes all of us. We all have evil thoughts, dreams, ideas, and inclinations. Paul reminds us of that struggle.
The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out what you intend to do. – Galatians 5:17
Because the Holy Spirit lives in us, we do no carry out the evil that our hearts may imagine. But because we are still broken and although redeemed still sinful (Jesus even says his disciples are evil!), we sometimes do not do the good we wish we would do (cf. Romans 7:18-25).
Jesus had other things to say as well. “Whoever comes to me, I will in no way cast out” (John 6). “This is my body…this is my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26). “Your sins are forgiven. Go and sin no more (John 8). Good words from our Good God. And that’s quite remarkable!