Prepare to listen. Be still and silent. Pray: Help me, O Lord, receive your words in my heart and hear them with my ears so that I can speak them to others. (from Ezekiel 3:10-11)
Read Mark 7:14-23
14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.’ 17When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 He said to them, ‘Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, 19 since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?’ (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, ‘It is what comes out of a person that defiles. 21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’
“How about your heart, is it right with God? That’s the thing that counts today.” We often sang this ‘contemporary’ song in my church when I was young. It was a constant reminder of the importance of the heart and the importance of wondering about my own heart: Is it right with God? In Jewish understanding, the heart was “the moral seat of the person” (Myers 2015, p. 220), dictating how we live. The ancient prophet Jeremiah understood the centrality of the heart, and complained, ‘The heart is deceitful above things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?’ (Jeremiah 17:9, KJV). Jesus knew this and thus, when alone with his disciples, he returns to the Pharisees’ question about eating with ‘defiled hands’ (v5), not to talk about Jewish purity codes, but to talk about the heart. His teaching is not merely radical but utterly subversive. What matters, he says, isn’t what’s on the outside, but what’s on the inside; purity of the heart not purity of the rituals.
What goes in doesn’t defile. It eventually comes out and goes ‘into the sewer.’ What comes from within defiles because it comes from a heart that is ‘desperately wicked.’ The heart, as the ancient prophets understood, is what needs to change. Through Jeremiah God promised ‘I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts’ (Jer 31:33). Ezekiel wrote, ‘A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh’ (Ezek 36:26). This is precisely what Jesus came to fulfill. As N. T. Wright observes, what Jesus seems to be emphasizing is that “when God becomes king, he provides a cure for uncleanness of heart” (Wright 2011, p. 101).
How about your heart? Is it right with God?
Respond to Jesus in prayer
Jesus, you came to cure the uncleanness of my heart. Please do your cleansing work in my heart today and let me help you. Amen.
Go and live obediently in the world, helping Jesus make your heart clean.