14 And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” 18 Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?”
Dear friends, I apologize for the foul language you just had to hear, but sometimes it needs to be said. Plus, I figure that if it is Jesus himself using potty language, then I’m allowed to repeat it. Oh, you could gloss over it I suppose, call it “expelled”, when what He really said would be better served today by “flushed”. But the point must be made. Jesus knows all about latrines, and feces, and filthy excrements. Perhaps that is even more shocking than the words said … Jesus knows all about one of the dirtiest, smelliest, shameful parts of human life.
It is shocking, I suppose, because we are comfortable with a God and Saviour who is removed from such base things. Above such lowly things. Untouched by such dirty things. It is shocking, because even in the latrine, there is nothing hidden from our Lord. He’s been there. He knows. Not even this indignity is hidden from Him.
And that’s the problem isn’t it? If certain things are left unsaid, then there can still be a certain dignity in mixed company. When a kind of distance is kept from objectionable things, nothing rubs off – so to speak. And that’s the problem Jesus was addressing. What God had intended in the beginning to keep them close to Him with hearts and lives prepared for His coming, had turned into little more than an exercise in keeping the filthy masses at a distance, and God as a mere afterthought.
In their dietary rituals, the laws surrounding what foods were considered clean or unclean, the Jews had come to distance themselves from objectionable others. They were like the proverbial fellow who thinks that their biffy doesn’t stink. They were just used to the smell, that’s all. You see, Jesus said: it was not the food entering the mouth that made a man unclean, but the man’s disregard of the Levitical law given him as a Jew by God. Especially, when they tried to use their own hollow version of such against the very one to whom the Old Testament statutes pointed.
(Colossians 2:16-17) Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. The Old testament dietary laws are transcended now that the saviour has come. They were no longer needed. That which they pointed to – prepared for – has now come! And He knows when something doesn’t smell right. And He’s not afraid to say so!
20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
The fundamental difference, you see, is how we view the natural condition of the human heart. Many of us, (like Pharisees) would like to think that man has a basically “good disposition” and a free will to choose what is good. A person is only corrupted by forces from the outside. Keep yourself clear, clean yourself up, and you will come out smelling like roses. But according to Jesus the truth doesn’t smell so sweet. Man’s heart is by nature sinful and unclean, in all that it seeks to do and all that it allows to remain undone. There is no need for an outside source of contamination, our heart is already corrupted by original sin.
It is a somber picture of all mankind, Christians included. Christians still have flesh, still struggle with sin. How often must not a Christian confess with Paul: “I know that in me, that is in my flesh, dwells no good thing.” There are those in our society who believe that the primary way to improve man is to clean his environment and remove the pollution which might enter and befoul a man. But Christianity teaches that God cleanses our hearts by faith (Acts 15:9) and so the Christian must regularly pray: “Create in me a clean heart, Oh God.” (Psalm 51:10)
Jesus knows all about one of the dirtiest, smelliest, shameful parts of human life. And that is why He came, why he sometimes uses graphic language. Because sometimes all you can do is open a window and air things out. Sometimes only a deep scrub and a thorough cleaning will do! Jesus scrubbed us clean, even though it meant being covered by all our filth. (Titus 3:4-7) But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
That which enters into us cannot defile us, but sometimes it can cleanse us of the filth that is already there. Especially, when that which is going in is from God! With the holy waters of Baptism He cleanses our lives of all the foulness that once was, regenerating and renewing our hearts by placing the Holy Spirit Himself within them.
And from that day onward, He does not cease to fill our lives with gifts that cleanse and nourish this new found life in Christ. (John 15:3) Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Time and again, God gives us His Holy Word placed into our ears and upon our lips, pressed into our hearts, ready at our fingertips. In preaching and reading, in study and prayer. As we share it with our children and with one another, it is doing what we cannot – turning the latrines of our human hearts into a garden of faith and delight. A sweet smelling sacrifice to God a life lived in the Word of God and prayer.
And where this amazing transformation has been worked by God’s Holy Gospel that which once was an assault on our personal dignity, and an ugly little truth no one could ever speak of (that I am a sinner – stinky to the core), has now become rich fertilizer for growing god-pleasing fruit. I don’t need to hide it anymore. I don’t need to isolate myself from others in shame or revulsion. I can be open the window of my soul and air things out a little. For I am a sinner – forgiven by the death and resurrection of Jesus. I am a sinner forgiven to the core.
I know such language is distasteful to many, but so be it. Jesus knows it all already. And He doesn’t think any less of me because of it. Nor will He think any less of you, dear sinner.