Wednesday, November 18, 2020
And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 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 defile him.” 17 And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
It’s always hard to self-evaluate, but growing up, I would say that I was more or less a “typical” teenager, if there is such a thing. I enjoyed staying up late, binging on fast food, was incredibly insecure, and, perhaps more than anything, hated cleaning my room. For some reason, even though I was the one who had to live there, my mom would insist that I kept my room clean. One day, when I dared to ask why, she replied that if we had company over who had never been to our house before she liked to give them a tour and wanted them to see a nice, clean room. As I listened to her explanation, I had an ‘ingenious’ idea, and immediately went to work cleaning my room as best as I possibly could. When I was all finished, I grabbed a disposable camera (if you are too young to know what those are, they were basically cardboard boxes that took a limited number of pictures), stood in the doorway, and took a picture. The next day I got the film developed (film was the stuff inside of cameras that stored the image) and proudly taped the photo of my clean room to the outside of the door. Although I was still unclear as to why exactly anyone would want to see the inside of a teenage boy’s bedroom, I figured at least now they could imagine what it “might” look like if they dared to open the door and it just so happened to be clean. To this day I’m not exactly sure if my mom was impressed with my ingenuity or she just decided that particular battle wasn’t worth it any longer, but the arguments ceased and the picture remained for several years.
Although occasionally good for comic relief, no one likes a smart aleck. In the first century, the Pharisees and scribes were the religious know-it-alls of their day, and they made sure everyone knew it. They studied the Mosaic law, and the rabbinic tradition surrounding it, backwards and forwards, going to painstaking lengths to ensure that they kept every single jot and tittle. They believed that their interpretation of the law carried the same weight and authority as Moses. Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, born just after the crucifixion of Jesus, who is believed to have been a Pharisee, wrote that the Pharisees “live thriftily, giving in to no luxury.” The Pharisees believed that they were walking examples of how every devout Jew ought to live, and they worked hard to maintain that image.
But while the Pharisees did not wear extravagant clothing or appear to chase after the comforts of the world, Jesus knew that their greatest concern, beyond anything else, was not really holiness, but merely the appearance of holiness. He called them out for their practice of praying loudly on the street corners so passersby would hear them using the entirety of their extensive theological vocabulary. He pointed out that they loved to be “caught” fasting and giving large monetary gifts at the synagogue. The term “Pharisee” literally means “separated ones” and, true to their namesake, they made it a point to stay far away from anyone or anything that might even accidentally brush up against them and make them ceremonially unclean. It would have been a common sight to see a Pharisee, scribe, or temple worker deliberately cross to the other side of the street if they noticed an uncircumcised Gentile walking their way.
After the scribes and Pharisees had questioned Jesus about the uncleanliness of His disciples, who did not all keep the rabbinic tradition by fastidiously washing their hands, Jesus now questioned their holiness to the gathered crowd. When Jesus looked at the religious leaders, He saw that their impressive outward obedience, which they believed to be their greatest asset, in actuality only served to gloss over a seismic spiritual need. In a continuation of His defense against their accusations, Jesus said, “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 defile him.” Although the crowd heard His words, they did not, could not, believe what they were hearing.
When the disciples went into the house and got Jesus alone, they were just as confused as everyone else. They had been taught their entire lives that the key to righteous living was to separate themselves from the things which would make them unclean. Jesus explained, however, that nothing from outside of them could truly defile them. He said that even in the instance of eating ‘unclean’ food, and remember that the dietary laws of the Jews were not a Pharisaical invention but direct commands given by God to Moses, it does not go into the heart, but merely enters the stomach and quickly passes through the body.
Mark adds a parenthetical note for the reader, as an avid barbecue enthusiast’ this may be my favorite parenthesis in Scripture, “Thus he declared all foods clean.” While some may take these words to mean that Jesus was contradicting the commands of the Old Testament, in reality Jesus was helping them to understand that the old law had now been fulfilled, and it was being replaced with something better, something greater. To this point in its history, Israel, God’s chosen race, was called to be a people who not only lived differently, but looked differently, from her pagan neighbors. They worshipped one God, not many. Rather than abusing their laborers and their land, they devoted one entire day out of every seven to rest and to worship. Their diets and even their material of their clothing, were different from everyone else. But while these external practices were designed to remind them of their need for reliance upon God, they were often rote and meaningless. Even when they followed Scripture’s external commands, their hearts were far from God. While the Jews were called to be a witness to the Lord and a light unto the nations, more often than not they were content to live in comfortable isolation from the wicked world around them.
In Jesus, God was making His move to open wide the Kingdom of Heaven to everyone. And while entrance into the Kingdom was not predicated upon any sort of prior religious behavior, nor did it first require a change in diet or clothing, it actually demanded something even greater: the complete devotion of the heart. Jesus explained that it was the heart, not the hands, which needed cleansing. He said, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts…” and then He went on to list a whole host of sins. Jesus knew that the heart of every man was wicked and corrupt, and unless their was first an internal transformation, everything on the outside would be nothing more than a photograph taped to the door.
Jesus came to revive the heart of humanity, but it was a taller task than anyone could imagine. If all people needed to do was confess and repent of their sins, then the prophetic message of John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness would have been enough to save them. But just as a laborer earns his wages, so a sinner earns his judgement. No amount of good works would ever be enough to repay the debt owed to God for our sin. Even the Pharisees, who obsessively observed the law of God, needed a complete transformation to restore their hearts of stone. Which is exactly what Jesus came to do.
As harsh and confounding as Jesus’ words sometimes appear to be, everything He did was aimed at the heart. He loved Pharisees enough to call out their hypocrisy. He loved the disciples enough to be patient in their unbelief. He even loved His executioners enough to ask the Father to forgive them for their ignorance. He loved us enough to pay the debt we could never pay. And He loves us enough to come and do His holy work in our hearts, that we might be finally free from the wickedness within.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, You are the Creator and Sustainer of this world, and You know all things. You know the thoughts and desires of our hearts, You see that so often we are more content to live a comfortable life of isolation instead of loving the lost world around us. We pray that You would use us to advance Your kingdom, that You would give us a love and a heart for the hypocrite, the ignorant, and even those who might seek to bring us harm. Help us to fix our hearts upon You and You alone. We pray in Your precious name, Amen.