6 February 2016

Mark 7:14-23

“There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” (v. 15)

Psalm: Psalm 31:9-24


Today's passage follows directly on from the controversy with the scribes and Pharisees and shows Jesus seeking to explain just why he is challenging their teaching. He begins by addressing the crowds who have gathered (verse 14) and explaining that it is not the things which go into a person from outside which can defile, but rather the things that come out from inside.

But this is followed by a further discussion when Jesus has entered a house with the disciples and they ask him to explain further the "parable" (v. 17). This is a pattern that has already emerged in Mark's Gospel, where Jesus goes on to offer further teaching to the disciples about his message. Here Jesus enlarges on what he has already said to the crowd; that it is not what enters the body from outside which defiles, since this all this flows through the stomach into the sewer (verse 19). Rather it is those impure emotions and intentions within (the heart) which give rise to evil actions (fornication, theft, murder, adultery etc) outside which are the real source of impurity. "All these evils things come from within, and they defile a person,", says Jesus (v. 21).

"Thus he declared all foods clean" (v. 19) and the implications for this new teaching are going to be profound both for Jesus and his disciples, and for the early Christian community which would meet in Jesus' name and whose worship and fellowship would centre on a shared meal together. For as we shall discover in the letters of Paul, the challenge of bringing together Jewish and Gentile Christians (eg Galatians 3:27-29), and the issue as to how far Jewish ritual purity laws still apply (eg 1 Corinthians 8), are going to be major issues for the emerging Church to address in subsequent generations.

To Ponder

  • To what extent do we really appreciate the significance of 'eating together' in today's world?
  • Is it the case that all food is clean? Or should we exercise ethical concern over what we eat? Why?
  • Jesus says that 'It is what comes out of a person that defiles'; is it really possible to separate what a person thinks (within) from how a person behaves (on the outside)?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Stephen Wigley

Stephen Wigley is a Methodist minister currently serving as chair of the Wales Synod. He is married to Jenny, a priest in the Church in Wales, and they have two teenage sons, David and Andrew.