What really defiles the human heart? The Pharisees apparently believed that what went in through the mouth was responsible for defiling the heart. As such, purity laws were the correct remedy to the issue. Jesus disagreed and actually argued that purity laws were largely irrelevant as far as keeping the purity of the human heart is concerned and when all is said and done what really matters is what comes out of a defiled impure heart that matters not what goes in.
He said, “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” I believe that you have heard from proverbs that out of the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks. According Jesus, the purity laws that the Pharisees focused on only tended to address the behavior while ignoring the impurity that was deeply embedded in their own hearts. It was this deep impurity in the heart for example that led to their rejection of God and caused them to be exiled numerous times in their history. The Pharisees attributed their exilic experiences and the then current Roman occupation to lack of observance of the purity laws and assumed that the remedy was a strict observance of those laws which would lead to their redemption and the eventual return of their God and with that the end of exile.
Jesus disagreed with both their diagnosis and their recommended treatment mechanism namely; strict observation of those purity laws. He said to the crowd, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” In other words, the Pharisees’ focus was on a wrong thing or wrong place. Obviously these words offended the Pharisees and the disciples let Jesus know that they were offended. Jesus essentially dismissed them. He said, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” This statement confused the disciples and Peter sought for explanation.
Jesus explained what he had said by using an obvious illustration about the digestive system and human behavior that flows from the human heart. He said, “Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defiles a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.” The point is that the Pharisees were misguided and hence were blind people seeking to lead the other blind people with potential catastrophic end in a pit. It was not that they were eating with unwashed hands or even being defiled by foreigners but that their own hearts were impure and hence their speech and even actions were impure as well.
This was the reason Jesus focused on dealing with the root of the problem namely; the impurity of the human heart. By focusing only on the purity laws, the religious leaders were not addressing the root cause of the problem. The disciples of Jesus were astounded by his take on this issue because seemingly like everybody else they were following the Pharisees and their emphasis on purity laws as the means to not be defiled. This could be the state of the church today as well. Jesus confronted this misplaced view of what keeps the heart pure and as his disciples, we may not necessarily be observing the purity codes of ancient Israel, but are our hearts, our thoughts and intentions, and the casual words we speak, telling us that our own purity is less than complete? If so what are we doing about it? By rejecting the focus on the purity laws, Jesus offered himself as the remedy to the situation. Through his life, teachings, death, resurrection and the promise to come again, we enter into a transformation process through his holy Spirit that works through and in us to cleanse us deep inside. As we live our lives together in accountable relationships, we must constantly open up our hearts to the Spirit of God to cleanse any impurities within our hearts so that we may bear fruit unto God.