Jesus summoned the crowd again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.”
When he got home away from the crowd his disciples questioned him about the parable. He said to them, “Are even you likewise without understanding? Do you not realize that everything that goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters not the heart but the stomach and passes out into the latrine?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) “But what comes out of a person, that is what defiles. From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”Mark 7:14-23
Purity of Heart
Jesus, circumcised and consecrated to the Lord, observed the Mosaic laws alongside Mary and Joseph.1 The Holy Family kept kosher. But in Jesus’ confrontation with the scribes and Pharisees concerning their dietary laws, he zeroed in on the essence of the Torah’s teaching: purity of heart.
Guard Your Heart
Laws separating clean and unclean food served a pedagogical function.2 Reflecting a broken world in need of divine restoration (shalom), the Torah distinguished between life and death, holy and unholy. Ultimately, the root of these exterior divisions lies in our interior disunity with God. From Moses to Jesus, religion progressively interiorizes, emphasizing teachings already present in the patriarchs and prophets.
“For I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” Hosea implores.3 “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me,” King David prays.4 “Guard your heart,” the Proverbs exhort, “for from it flow the springs of life.”5
For a Gentile and Jewish Christian audience, the parable reveals the ultimate purpose of the kosher laws (kashrut). Consecrated to God, the children of the new Israel cultivate a pure, kosher heart. The word “kosher” comes from kasher (“to be proper, lawful”), and thus “clean” or “pure.” Kosher hearts shine with the pure light of God.
1 Luke 2:22-24.
2 Leviticus 11.
3 Hosea 6:6.
4 Psalm 51:10 (12).
5 Proverbs 4:23 (various translations).