Matthew 15:10-11, 15:15-20 (NIV) Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.'”
Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”
“Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.'”
Many people read this parable of Jesus and quickly latch on to the point that Jesus is removing the dietary restrictions from the law. That this is the case is stated explicitly in Mark 7:19b, and reinforced by the decision of the Jerusalem Council, where they determined that only meat sacrificed to idols and blood was forbidden to gentile converts.
But that focus completely misses Jesus’ real point, which, as He explained later to His disicples, is that what goes into a person’s mouth, whether clean or unclean, doesn’t touch the heart. It is digested, and ultimately makes its way out of the body. Instead, it is what comes out of a person’s mouth that shows uncleanness, because our words betray the condition of our hearts. Crude words betray crudeness of heart, which makes the whole being contaminated by crudeness. Cruel words betray cruelty in our hearts; proud, boasting words show proud hearts; irreverent words show irreverent hearts. All of these maladies of the heart corrupt the whole being.
James picked up on this theme in 3:9-12 to show that the words our tongues speak in our unguarded moments betray what is really in our hearts. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (NIV)
Jesus’ point to His followers is that external obedience and ritual does not make or keep someone’s heart pure. If it did, the Pharisees would have received His highest praise. Instead, it is the purity of the heart that results in external righteousness. And the state of the heart can easily be seen by our unguarded words.
Father, when we look at Jesus’ whole emphasis instead of letting ourselves get so caught up in arguments about clean or unclean foods, we see a great consistency. Jesus was always concerned about the state of a person’s heart. And that state isn’t changed, for better or worse, by our external rituals. Instead, our actions and our words, good or bad, are a reflection of the state of our hearts. “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Jesus in Matthew 12:33-37 NIV). Thank you for helping me to better understand this. Amen.