Mark 7: 1-23
Over the centuries, people have fasted from food during seasons of prayer. Why? It is an aid for developing spiritual hunger for God. Also, people of various faiths kneel for prayer. Isn’t that rather uncomfortable? It is an aid for developing spiritual humility. So the washings and efforts to stay clean and free from dirt and disease that were used by religious people in Jesus’s day were a kind of visual aid that enabled them to recognize that they were spiritually and morally unclean and couldn’t enter the presence of God unless there was some kind of spiritual purification.
If you are going to meet up with somebody who is particularly important to you — for that big date or important job interview — you wash, you brush your teeth, you comb your hair. What are you doing? Getting rid of the uncleanness, of course. You don’t want a stain on you. You don’t want to smell bad. The cleanliness laws were the same idea. Spiritually, morally, unless you are clean, you can’t be in the presence of a perfect and holy God.
Jesus couldn’t have agreed more with the religious leaders of his day about the fact that we are unclean before God, unfit for the presence of God. But he disagreed with them about the source of the uncleanness, and about how to address it.
Jesus shows us why we can’t shake that sense of uncleanness. What is really wrong with the world? Why can the world be such a miserable place? Why do relationships tend to fall apart? Jesus is saying: We are what’s wrong. It is what comes out from the inside. It is the self-centeredness of the human heart. No matter what we do, or how hard we try, external solutions don’t deal with the soul. Outside-in will never work, because most of what causes our problems works from the inside out.
“In saying this, Jesus declared all foods ‘clean.’” (v19) It doesn’t read, “Jesus said all foods were clean.” If it did, then maybe the meaning would be, “Jesus says you don’t need to worry so much about these foods, everything is all right, go ahead, eat them.” Jesus would be saying that the cleanliness laws were an outdated idea, and let’s get beyond them. He would be giving an authoritative opinion on the subject.
But that’s not what happened. It reads, “Jesus declared.” Jesus pronounced. What he is saying here is that the cleanliness laws have been fulfilled — that their purpose, to get you to move toward spiritual purification, has been carried out.
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). God clothed Jesus in our sin. He took our penalty, our punishment. Through Jesus Christ, at infinite cost to himself, God has clothed us in costly clean garments. It cost him his blood. And it is the only thing that can deal with the problem of our heart. Doing, doing, doing from the outside in. It won’t work.
Note from King’s Cross: Understanding the Life and Death of Jesus