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Gospel of Matthew 15: 10-20
10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean’, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean’.”
12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”
13 He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”
15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”
16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean’. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean’.”
I wonder if Jesus wore a smile as he exclaimed, “Are you still so dull?”. The question put by Peter and no doubt silently asked by the other disciples referred to the parable of verse 11: “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean’, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean’.”
The offence felt by the Pharisees would not have been simply because Jesus seemed to endorse “break(ing) the tradition of the elders” (verse 2) in relation to the washing of hands before eating. They would have sensed he was criticising them with his comment implying that what came out of their mouths rendered them “unclean” – even if they, like the disciples, were in need of further explanation.
The essence of Jesus’ clarification is in his statement: “the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart …”. The heart was not only regarded as the seat of emotion, it was believed to be the centre of a person’s physical and spiritual life, the place of a person’s remembering and of one’s willingness to believe in, trust and obey God.
Jesus knew what was in a person and from whence came all that was of the evil one, all that opposed what the Father wanted of his creatures.
James in his Epistle (3: 6) seems to attribute evil to the tongue: “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” He does however, in referring to the source of what is on the tongue, use the metaphor of a “spring”. The tongue or the mouth is really the messenger for what “springs” from the heart.
How do we purify our hearts and render them clean? That requires a deliberate decision to reject former ways. It requires too the strength we gain from faith in Jesus, from a lifestyle characterised by prayer and from an attitude of humility that seeks the help of the Holy Spirit.
James wrote (3: 17), “… the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” Let us pray for Godly wisdom in all aspects of our lives and especially in the attitudes of our hearts.