Gospel of Mark 7: 14-23 (NIV)
Clean and Unclean
14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean’.”
17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him ‘unclean’? 19 For it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods “clean”.)
20 He went on: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean’. 21 For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean’.”
Jesus’ teaching was prompted by an encounter described earlier in the chapter: Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law from Jerusalem saw Jesus’ disciples eating food without first washing their hands. According to the law, they were to be considered “unclean”. The Pharisees and teachers of the law therefore challenged Jesus: “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders …?” (verses 1-2, 5).
Jesus replied with words of Scripture (verses 6-7, 10) then demonstrated the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. But later the disciples asked Jesus to clarify his message. He explained the parable for their benefit and ours.
Recall from this passage of Scripture Jesus’ listing of what makes us “unclean”. It is evident that what makes a person “unclean” can include not only actions but thoughts as well.
The sins of commission Jesus listed include actions contrary to five of the Ten Commandments (6-10). But there are other things that come out of us as well that make us “unclean”: “evil thoughts … arrogance and folly”. Compare this with our contemporary legal system. It recognises actions and can pursue convictions for the commitment of acts that are illegal. On the whole our law does not set out to convict and punish people for their thoughts or attitudes unless and until such attitudes manifest themselves in illegal acts.
There is a sound reason for this: who is able to read and evaluate another person’s thoughts? God alone does this. God knows what makes a person “unclean” for he knows our innermost thoughts. He knows who among us is “unclean”. Indeed, for those with God-shaped consciences, we are likely to know ourselves whether or not our thoughts are “unclean”.
Parliamentarians live under constant scrutiny from the media and from the public. Most are continuously being judged for what they say and what they do. Uncomplimentary motives are attributed by a judgemental public ever critical of words, policy or actions.
All of us, especially Parliamentarians and others in the public arena, need to conduct ourselves with integrity at all times. Our thoughts, as well as our words and deeds, are to present a consistent image that imitates Jesus. Children of God, who you are as a person is of greater lasting significance than what you may or may not have accomplished in public office.
… for out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12: 34b). Lord, guard my tongue.
Drawn from a talk delivered 10 December 2013