In the forgoing verses Jesus pointed out that the loopholes of the Pharisees were invalid. Paul said in Galatians that God cannot be mocked1. Loopholes, work-arounds, fall into the category of mocking God. So the Pharisees were not living well and neither were they preaching well. They were not teaching, leading, instructing the people. Since they were missing this mission Jesus took up that mantle as we see in the following.
14 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.” 2
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.” (Mark 7:14-23–ESV)
Detangling the masses
The Pharisees would remain behind mired in Moses. After isolating the Pharisees Jesus turned to the entangled masses. Many among the masses would also remain mired in the Mosaic laws than man had expanded, but Jesus continued his “pied pipering”3 of the people. He continued to beckon them to something else just around the corner. Groundwork was being laid. It would be a long time till understanding really dawned on them, but later they would have the “Aha.”
What did the people of Israel know? What were they correct about? They correctly understood that they were to avoid participating in things that would make them “unclean” or “defiled” before God. What they did not understand was how they truly were falling short.
Israel’s natural understanding was that the eating of certain foods caused spiritual harm. There was belief that food items carried along with them some intrinsic corruption. Jesus eventually would tell Peter that he should not call anything unclean that God had made. That is, Peter should not hold that God made certain food items as intrinsically corrupt.
Unfortunately Jesus’ proclamations declared things far worse. The things intrinsic to man are the things that corrupt. The styles, choices, words, mannerisms, prejudices, and many other things like this come from inside a person. That is the source of defilement.
In summary, verse 15 records Jesus saying that defilement was not a matter of the ceremonial, things outside a person, but a matter of the heart, inside a person. The masses were entangled by false understandings of how they were defiled. The people were to think on what Jesus meant by this, but it seems that it was difficult to grasp. Jesus had begun the detangling though.
The disciples didn’t get it
The disciples may have had ears to hear, but they did not know how to hear. To their credit they inquired and Jesus elaborated.
Verse 20 took the disciples back to what they did not understand with verses 21 and 22 peeling back the haze illuminating a startling and troubling truth. The root problem was personal and intrinsic to the human heart. People are unclean, common, ceremonially disqualified not because of eating the wrong food, but because of their inner qualities, because of themselves. There is no honest person who could claim purity before the list that Jesus gave in 21 and 22. Out of the overflow of the heart come the defilements of man. They lay guilt before all men so very easily.
What Jesus said, and what Israel believed were not like this at all. The Jew (most people, actually) figured purity derived from adherence to specific patterns, but Jesus said it was not that way. Remember when he said, “Except your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees…“? All should recognize the blanket of sin under which they lie. Of course, Jesus knew the answer to this problem and in his good time he would reveal it, but not yet.
The people were to be convicted by Jesus’ words. They were to find pause in recognizing their own fit into the lists of verses 21 & 22. They were to say to themselves, “Wow, I don’t eat the unclean foods, but Jesus is saying my envy defiles me. What is up with that? If that is the issue then I’m in a bad way.” Verses 21 and 22 were to be the signals of sin, wrecking balls against the walls of comfort. The solution was coming and it was Christ. Jesus would not just tell them the defilements were inside, but would also be the cure for them.
Do we get it?
The defilements Jesus mentioned are not just Jewish. Gentile and Jew alike fall short of the glory of God. There are things on this list that we do not do, but it is crucial that we see the things on this list that we do participate in.
What will be our character? Will we be like…
- Pharisees rejecting Jesus and his sayings?
- The masses hearing but not understanding?
- The disciples hearing, not understanding, but asking?
- Be humble enough to ask God for insight
- When we understanding will we seek God’s help in setting those things aside?
- Don’t be so happy with sin that we continue in it
- When we understand will we dismiss the concerns because we are forgiven?
- Never value the blood of Christ too lightly
The following is more of a scriptural interpretation issue of my own
My doctrine worries rattle a little when I read a passage like this. The concern goes like this: did Jesus upend the law by his proclamation of all foods clean? In Matthew 5:18 Jesus said that he would not take away “one jot or tittle” of the law and yet here he seems to say all foods are clean. Was Jesus saying that the Jew could now eat shrimp and squid, camels, rock badgers and pigs without losing the ceremonial purity? To eat those animals was to violate the law of Moses.
The answer to this question rests upon Jesus’ motivation with this passage. He was looking forward to the next dispensation; unpacking motives as the issue.
To eat against the Mosaic law = disobedience. Disobedience rather than a specific food product = defilement.