And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 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.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 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, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” – Mark 7:14-23
Jesus is dealing with some pretty sensitive stuff here. Most of the well-known martyr stories in His day were about Jewish people who endured torture or even death for refusing to eat unclean food, especially pork. If He is going to take on the unclean food issue, He might need to speak in parables in order to break this one to the crowds. Only a fool speaks of its supposed martyrs with direct insensitivity!
And then here comes a short but pointed parable: “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 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.” And, par for the course, the disciples don’t get it. They ask Him what the parable meant when they got to the house. He tells them. We might expect Him to say something to the effect of “externals don’t matter; physical things don’t matter; what matters are the spiritual things—internal things.” At first glance it seems that is what He said, but upon closer inspection, we might be shocked to find that that’s precisely what He did not say!
Instead of saying that external and physical things are bad, and internal or spiritual things are good, we find that the internal things may be quite bad, and external things (i.e., food) are “clean” (v. 19). Feelings are helpful humanizing things God has given us so that we may interact better with the world. Feelings are also fallen, broken by the Fall. There is a warning here since some may suggest that if we get in touch with our deepest feelings, or listen submissively to what our heart is telling us, that we’ll know the truth. On the contrary, Jesus is suggesting that human motivations are often poisoned wells and are the real problem to which the purity laws were pointing in the first place.
Jesus’ point is that the purity laws don’t actually remedy the human problem. The bible’s codes of purity in the law of Moses were signposts pointing to a destination greater than themselves. Jesus is that destination. If you arrive at the destination, the signposts are a distant memory because you’ve arrived. That doesn’t mean the signposts were worthless or incorrect, but their job is complete. We find here that the purity codes were not a timeless way of living; it’s simply that they reached their peak in Jesus Christ. From now on everything is different because He is the remedy for the human condition, making all things (yes, even those fallen feelings) new. And that’s the gospel!