In Mark chapter 7, we find a group of religious leaders clashing with Jesus once again over an aspect of His life and teaching. This time, the issue involved the long standing traditions and customs that were followed by the religious leadership of Jesus’ day. These customs were known as the “Tradition of the Elders” and they represented the collected teachings and commands of well-known religious teachers from the past. These traditions included many detailed interpretations of the Old Testament law and spelled out things that you could and could not do in particular situations.
These traditions had built up over the years and had become the accepted standards of behavior by Jesus’ day. These rules were strictly followed by the religious leaders- but not necessarily by Jesus and His disciples. So not surprisingly, this lead to a disagreement between Jesus and these men…
In answering their question, Jesus quoted Isaiah 29:19 and said in effect, “Your tradition cancels out the direct commandment of God.” You see, the Old Testament law did require various washings and rituals in certain situations but these men went beyond what the Scripture called for and created a tremendous burden upon people because of it.
So Jesus was not criticizing the law itself but He was criticizing the way that it was interpreted by those who placed their tradition on an equal or higher level than the Bible. He then took the opportunity to get to the issue that was really important…
Jesus here identifies the core issue involved with being “clean” and “unclean.” Jesus points out that cleanliness before God is not a matter of washing up in a certain way because it’s not what goes into someone that makes them unclean but what comes out.
So in answering the disciple’s request to explain His statement, Jesus’ response is to basically say, “Don’t you get it? What you eat has no effect on the heart.” This is important for us to understand for when Jesus speaks of “the heart” here, He’s not talking about that big muscle in your chest that pumps blood 24 hours a day. When used in a spiritual sense, the “heart” is a symbol for the part of you that thinks, feels and makes decisions.
Used in this way, the heart represents your innermost emotional and spiritual being. Like our physical hearts, our spiritual hearts are not immediately visible to others but just as you will eventually see the ill effects of someone with a physical heart ailment, you will eventually see the ill effects of someone whose spiritual heart is not right with God too. That’s because your heart represents who you really are. And what’s in your heart will eventually reveal who and what you really are to others.
So what are these things that come from our hearts and defile us (or make us unclean) before God? Well, Jesus goes on to list a few of them…
- Evil thoughts (or destructive thoughts designed to cause injury to others)
- Sexual immorality
- Greed or covetousness, the intense desire to possess more of something that you already have enough of
- Wickedness (or evil purposes and desires)
- Deceit (literally “to bait or snare” someone)
- Lewdness or “undisciplined, unrestrained behavior”
- Blasphemy or slander
- Pride or arrogance (this would include someone with an inflated opinion of themselves or someone who looks down on others with contempt)
- Folly or foolishness
The Apostle Paul picks up on this same idea a little later in the Bible…
The Apostle John sounds a similar warning in the book of 1st John…
Jesus says that it’s not the lack of following a tradition that messes people up. The real deciding factors are the evil thoughts and intentions of someone’s heart. These are the things that defile people and make them unable to enjoy a relationship with God. So how can we get our hearts right before God? Well, here’s the answer from the Apostle Paul in the book of Romans…
Remember Jesus’ promise to those with pure hearts…