14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.’*
17 When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18He said to them, ‘Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, 19since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?’ (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20And he said, ‘It is what comes out of a person that defiles. 21For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’
Jesus has been in conversation / conflict with the Pharisees, who came from Jerusalem to try to catch him in an infraction of their tradition – and had focused on his disciples, and the way in which they were eating. They had accused the disciples of being “unclean” because they were not following rituals before eating. Jesus had countered by pointing out where the Pharisees disobeyed the spirit of God’s law while keeping the letter of the law. Now he turns to the crowd – and says to them that it is not what goes into a person that makes him unclean, but what comes from the person. This must have seemed odd to the people of the day, who were accustomed to seeing the world in terms of “clean and unclean” much as a surgical nurse sees “sterile and contaminated”.
Later, when he has left the crowd and is in the house with the disciples, they question him about what he meant. Jesus’ response is somewhat incredulous, “Do you also fail to understand?” Throughout Mark, the disciples fail to understand. Jesus explains – what goes into a person from outside, whether he eats “unclean” foods, or eats without following rituals of washing, none of this makes the person unclean, for it goes through the digestive track and comes out, and goes into the sewer. Here Mark adds an aside – the aside is written in Mark’s time (65 – 75 CE), not as something Jesus said or did, but as interpretation of Jesus’ words, addressing one of the greatest issues as the church spreads to the Gentile world, that of the Jewish food regulations. Mark says that Jesus’ statement here declared all foods to be “clean”.
Jesus goes on – It is from a person’s heart that evil comes – fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, deceit, envy, pride, etc. It is the evil things in a person’s heart that cause him to do evil things, and it is the evil in a person’s heart that defiles him. All the rules and regulations, all the righteous quoting of scripture, all the eating and doing and saying the “right” things – are not worth anything if the heart within is filled with hate, anger, and malice. It is only the heart filled with the love of God and love for one another that is pure – the Bible’s word is righteous – not a word we like much anymore, but the truth is, the righteous are not the Pharisees, not the judgmental, but those who love as Jesus loved.
A note: Please pray for peace in the Holy Land! It is sad to see the destruction and loss of life happening in that beautiful place!