The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.
Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.
What Defiles a Person
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.[a] 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?[b] 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.”
In last week’s passage, which immediately precedes today’s reading, the Pharisees and scribes confronted Jesus over His lenience in allowing the disciples to eat without first washing their hands.
Jesus cited Isaiah and called them hypocrites for instituting manmade laws whilst ignoring God’s Law.
It is likely that He was alone with them for that exchange. Then He turned to the people (verse 10) in order to teach them that ingesting certain foods would not defile them, but what emerged from their mouth — sinful statements from a dark heart — did defile them (verse 11).
It is interesting that neither Matthew’s nor Mark’s accounts of Jesus lifting dietary laws is included in the three-year Lectionary. What were the editors and compilers thinking? It is becoming increasingly important for Christians to know these passages to explain to those of other world religions — and even to each other. Sects such as Seventh Day Adventists and Mormons eschew all manner of food and drink in order to maintain notional spiritual purity.
Mark’s account (Mark 7:17-20), about which I wrote in 2010, actually says:
(Thus he declared all foods clean.)
The disciples then went to Jesus and asked Him if He was aware that the hierarchy were offended by His words (verse 12). They had not grasped — or refused to understand — that He was among them now. He was their Messiah. Therefore, the Old Covenant ritual purity, part of the preparation of God’s people, could now be set aside.
Jesus responded that any plant not of God’s making would be uprooted (verse 13). Matthew Henry’s commentary explains:
Not only the corrupt opinions and superstitious practices of the Pharisees, but their sect, and way, and constitution, were plants not of God’s planting … The people of the Jews were planted a noble vine but now that they are become the degenerate plant of a strange vine, God disowned them, as not of his planting.
Both Henry and MacArthur say we must guard against the same thing happening in our churches. Where we find such situations, we must avoid them.
Jesus said to leave such false teachers and hypocrites — the blind — alone (verse 14). This implies that God will exercise divine judgment on them. His next sentence implies condemnation: the blind — hypocritical false teachers — leading the blind — the duped — will end up in the pit.
John MacArthur says (emphases mine):
… they are not only offended by the truth, but destined for judgment …
Remember the parable of the wheat and the tares, where God sowed the wheat, and the enemy, Satan, came and sowed the tares. So He’s saying that the ones that God doesn’t plant will be rooted up, or judged. His message to them was judgment on the hypocrites. The only person that God in Christ really blasts in the New Testament, where you get the person along with the sin, is the spiritual hypocrite. For the rest, He’ll hit the sin; but in the case of the hypocrite, He’ll hit the person with his sin. So He says that they’re destined for judgment, and it’s almost the same as the parable of the wheat and the tares; they are going to get rooted up. Remember that it says they will grow together until the judgment, and then the Father will separate them. If they aren’t His, they’ll be rooted up.
Notice the beginning of verse 14, a very important statement. “Let them alone.” That is a hard statement. What does that mean? It really can be translated, “Stay away from them.” Anyone who pretends to represent the true religion, or know God, or to know the truth, but his inside is not true, stay away from him.
What does that mean? One, it’s the staying away of judgment. Hosea 4:17 says, “Ephraim has joined idols; let him alone.” It’s almost as if they are abandoned to judgment. Secondly, it’s the staying away in terms of, “Don’t you act as the judge.” Remember how we saw that in the wheat and the tares? They said, “Should we rip the tares out?” And He said, “That’s not your job; the angels will come in due time and do that. Your job is to proclaim the message of the Kingdom. We’ll take care of the judgment. Don’t try to rip them up.”
Henry has the same perspective but adds this:
They were confident that they themselves were guides of the blind (Romans 2:19,20), were appointed to be so, and fit to be so that every thing they said was an oracle and a law “Therefore let them alone, their case is desperate do not meddle with them you may soon provoke them, but never convince them.”
Peter asked for an explanation (verse 15). Jesus was somewhat exasperated that they, His closest followers, still did not understand (verse 16). However, being a patient, tireless teacher, He went on to explain.
Jesus answered by saying that it does not matter what we put into our mouths, because, eventually, we expel it and it is gone (verse 17). The crucial aspect is what emanates from the heart because it is this which eventually comes out of our mouths (verse 18).
It includes more than words. There are also evil thoughts and evil acts (verse 19). Those, He says, are what defile us. Eating with unwashed hands has nothing to do with defilement (verse 20).
Henry has a useful list of what we must avoid:
First, Evil thoughts, sins against all the commandments. Therefore David puts vain thoughts in opposition to the whole law, Psalm 119:113. These are the first-born of the corrupt nature, the beginning of its strength, and do most resemble it. These, as the son and heir, abide in the house, and lodge within us. There is a great deal of sin that begins and ends in the heart, and goes no further. Carnal fancies and imaginations are evil thoughts, wickedness in the contrivance (Dialogismoi poneroi), wicked plots, purposes, and devices of mischief to others, Micah 2:1.
Secondly, Murders, sins against the sixth commandment these come from a malice in the heart against our brother’s life, or a contempt of it. Hence he that hates his brother, is said to be a murderer he is so at God’s bar, 1 John 3:15. War is in the heart, Psalm 4:21; James 4:1.
Thirdly, Adulteries and fornications, sins against the seventh commandment these come from the wanton, unclean, carnal heart and the lust that reigns there, is conceived there, and brings forth these sins, James 1:15. There is adultery in the heart first, and then in the act, Matthew 5:28.
Fourthly, Thefts, sins against the eighth commandment cheats, wrongs, rapines, and all injurious contracts the fountain of all these is in the heart, that is it that is exercised in these covetous practices (2 Peter 2:14), that is set upon riches, Psalm 62:10. Achan coveted, and then took, Joshua 7:20,21.
Fifthly, False witness, against the ninth commandment this comes from a complication of falsehood and covetousness, or falsehood and covetousness, or falsehood and malice in the heart. If truth, holiness, and love, which God requires in the inward parts, reigned as they ought, there would be no false witness bearing, Psalm 64:6; Jeremiah 9:8.
Sixthly, Blasphemies, speaking evil of God, against the third commandment speaking evil of our neighbour, against the ninth commandment these come from a contempt and disesteem of both in the heart thence the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost proceeds (Matthew 12:31,32) these are the overflowing of the gall within.
Now these are the things which defile a man, Matthew 15:20. Note, Sin is defiling to the soul, renders it unlovely and abominable in the eyes of a pure and holy God unfit for communion with him, and for the enjoyment of him in the new Jerusalem, into which nothing shall enter that defileth or worketh iniquity. The mind and conscience are defiled by sin, and that makes every thing else so, Titus 1:15. This defilement by sin was signified by the ceremonial pollutions which the Jewish doctors added to, but understood not. See Hebrews 9:13,14,1 John 1:7.
These therefore are the things we must carefully avoid, and all approaches toward them, and not lay stress upon the washing of the hands …
All of these heinous sins are committed today in abundance, as if they are perfectly normal behaviours. We excuse them, even when we do not commit them ourselves. We say, ‘Some people can’t help it.’ No, but it shows how hard-wired we are to sin rather than hard-wired to embrace holiness.
The more we pray and the closer we stay to the Word, the less likely we are to commit these sins. Let us pray for grace so that we may have more faith and more sanctification.
Finally, it is a shame that this reading — and Mark’s — are not part of the three-year Lectionary. Christians are missing out on important lessons, not just about ritual cleanliness or food, but, more importantly, sin.
Next time — Matthew 15:29-31