Matthew 15:10-20 (ESV)

10 And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” 12 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” 13 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” 15 But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” 16 And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”

After the Pharisees questioned Jesus about his hand washing practices, he called all the people around him to listen. It was critical that they understand what makes a person unclean before God. In Jesus’ time, the Jews demanded careful ritual washing before food was consumed. But Jesus says, “It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person.” This was completely different from what the Pharisees practiced. Jesus goes on to say in contrast to their teaching, “What comes out of the mouth; this defiles the person.” Contamination, according to Jesus, happens not on the kitchen counter, but in the heart. The Pharisees were not happy with Jesus dismissing this practice they had worked hard to adhere to all of their lives. In verse 15, Peter asks Jesus for further explanation. Ceremonial washing didn’t matter anymore? This made no sense to the disciples. Jesus was a bit surprised that they still didn’t get it (v. 16). With respect to food, we eat, we digest, and we eliminate waste. But words are totally different because they came from the heart, or the mind, or the soul. Jesus goes on to explain that all sins come from the inner person. It was therefore a waste of time to follow the Pharisees’ hand cleaning processes when God is actually interested in character.

In this teaching, Jesus emphasized the necessity of an upright heart. He let the disciples know that evil and ungodly behavior begins in the mind of a woman. We all need to keep our inner person pure. When we indulge in wicked behavior, it’s a sign that we have a heart problem before God. Even if we are Christians who have been given a new heart, our old nature wants to creep back in and attempt to suffocate the new life within us. In our busyness, let’s be careful to take time to check our hearts. Are you holding a grudge against someone or unwilling to forgive? Are you dissatisfied with what you have and even jealous of those who are blessed with more stuff than you? Are you bitter about something that didn’t go your way? If we find any darkness within us, let’s confess, repent, and determine to avoid whatever triggers that thinking in our minds. Ask the Holy Spirit to purify your heart. How wonderful to consider that he cleanses us and graces us with new beginnings each and every day.