Having called for the crowd’s attention, the Lord made this simple statement:
Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man. (Matthew 15:11)
His disciples were still in awe at what He had said before the parable. He had just called the Pharisees hypocrites (Matthew 15:7-9, 12), and they were offended at Him. His desire was not to spare their feelings or to allow them to save face before the people. He called them exactly what they were – hypocrites. The Pharisees claimed to serve God but knowingly taught the people to do contrary to the word of God.
He addressed the disciples concern with a short parable about the blind leading the blind which we looked at in last week’s article. But in the same discussion He also gave this parable about the source of defilement.
A Word of Caution
Let us preface our comments about this parable with the understanding that Jesus is not justifying the consumption of things which were identified as unclean under the Law. He required adherents to the Law to abstain from eating unclean items just as much as the Pharisees would. However, they made laws in addition to what God had revealed, requiring special washings and such, and condemned those who would not do so (Matthew 15:2). They were more zealous for the traditions of the elders than for the law of God.
In the Talmud, texts such as Leviticus 15:11 and Psalm 26:6 are cited in relation to the Jewish custom of hand washing. They turned what was a law of hygiene into a vain ceremony. God does not give laws for the sake of ritual; His laws have a purpose. For instance, the tithe was how the Levites would receive sustenance. The Pharisees were very meticulous, even requiring a tithe of spices (Matthew 23:23). In doing so, it was no longer about a provision for the Levites—it became a sacramental observance.
Jesus met their extremist view with a practical view:
Do you not understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? …to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man. (Matthew 15:17 20)
The Heart Is Important
Despite their vigilant focus on ridding the nation of dirty hands, the Pharisees gave little attention to the heart. They should have been as focused on what comes out of the mouth as they were on what went in it. Jesus said:
…those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man… (Matthew 15:18-19)
Well, at least the people’s hands had no dirt on them, but they were definitely not clean! What a list of things to overlook! The Pharisees overlooked, even approved such things, for they were guilty of the same (Romans 1:32; 2:1).
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, we see their evil thoughts about Him (Matthew 9:4). They were murderers, even as their forefathers had been (Acts 7:51-52). When they brought an adulterous woman to Jesus in John 9, He used it as an occasion to reveal that they were guilty of the same (John 8:7-9; Matthew 7:1-5). The Pharisees would steal from widows (Matthew 23:14) and taught the people to steal from God (Malachi 3:8). They blasphemed both Jesus and the Spirit of God (Mark 3:22-30). What a trade-off! They were fine with evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, stealing, lying, and blasphemy; but if a man had dust on his hands, they would speak against him! They were the epitome of hypocrisy.
Friends, let us not walk in their way. See what God would have us do and do it, but don’t become nitpickers in matters of opinion or foolishness. Or, as some have put it, let us not major in minors and minor in majors. If the Lord has commanded something let us do it and expect others to do so also; but let us not add to His law our own rules and expect others to obey us rather than God.