When [Jesus] had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. So He said to them, “Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?” And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”
I remember being a child and often trying to figure out how to shift the blame from myself to another whenever I had been caught doing wrong. As the youngest of three children, one of my common tactics was to blame my behavior on the influence of my older siblings. If my brother did something wrong, and I then copied him, perhaps he was to blame for my bad act. If my sister dared me, and I acted in order to save face, perhaps that was her fault as well. There were many outside forces and influences on which I could project my blame, but they really did not matter. Those forces and influences had no power over me except that I could be tempted to sin. The real problem was the direction of my heart’s motivation.
This conversation between Jesus and his disciples began with a question from the Pharisees and scribes. They wanted to know why these men violated tradition and ate with unwashed hands. [v. 1-5] Their belief was that the disciples were being impure by eating food without first performing a specific hand-washing ceremony decided by men. The point that Jesus was making was that our impurity comes from the inside. Dirty hands touching the bread that passes over our lips does not make us impure and unworthy of the Lord. The blemish that makes us this way comes from the sinful heart. That sinful heart is the root and source of every sinful act, and that is the truth that the Pharisees and scribes could not accept.
We do not sin because of the pressures or influence of others. We sin because of our hearts. There is nothing we can do to cleanse those hearts or make ourselves pure and worthy of God. The way we wash our hands, the foods we eat, and the clothing we wear do not change the heart. This is about having the humility to admit that we all are sinful, helpless, and in need of a savior. This is about taking accountability for our sin and recognizing that we are powerless to change that nature ourselves. There is no hope for a changed heart when one cannot accept that it is in dire need of repair. Father, give us wisdom concerning the condition of our hearts, that we would not try in vain to perfect ourselves.