In order to be clean, we need to be cleansed from the inside out. After refuting the religious leaders’ over-adherence to certain religious practices, Jesus gets to the heart of what truly makes someone pure, clean, undefiled. He says that uncleanness lies within our hearts. In the Law of Moses, God had designated for His people what was considered clean and unclean. When a person made contact with something that was unclean, they themselves became unclean too. God’s people didn’t want to be unclean, so over time they designed by themselves more and more elaborate rituals to keep away from what was unclean so that they would not become defiled. But here, Jesus shifts the understanding for the Jewish people who are familiar with these traditions. He says that things which enter us from the outside are not what defile us. Foods, dirt, or diseases in and of themselves are not what make us impure before God. Instead, it is what comes out of a person that defiles him or her.
Jesus takes the focus away from doing things to keep us clean by saying that we do things because we are unclean. He clarifies that our bad choices – the poor thoughts, words, and actions we exhibit – are what defile us. That is because these behaviors come from what is already inside our heart. We do not become unclean because of food, or unclean animals, or illness, or other things entering our bodies. But we do become unclean in God’s sight by the thoughts, words, and deeds that come out of what our heart leads us to do. Therefore, there is no religious practice that we can do for ourselves from the outside that will make us clean. Rather, our track record – of the mean ways we act, the bad things we say, the thoughts we harbor against others – already shows that we are unclean. We need to have our hearts cleansed of all that is bad in order to be made clean.
The Good News that Jesus shares with us not only shows us that we need to be made clean, but also shows that Jesus Himself cleans our hearts. He takes away our sin and gives us hearts that are clean. He does for us the work we cannot do through rituals or practices. Have you admitted your uncleanness before God? Have you asked Him to cleanse your heart from sin which defiles you? When we come to Jesus, He willingly and joyfully makes us clean.