"The words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you” (Matthew 15:18-2).
It may well be that from a Jewish perspective this was the most startling thing Jesus ever said. For in this saying he does not only condemn Scribal and Pharisaic ritual and ceremonial religion: Jesus actually wipes out large sections of the book of Leviticus. This saying of Jesus cancels all the food laws of the Old Testament.
Once and for all Jesus lays it down that what matters is not the state of a person's ritual observance, but the state of a person's heart.
No wonder the Scribes and Pharisees were shocked. The very ground of their religion was cut from beneath their feet. This statement was not simply alarming; it was revolutionary! If Jesus was right, their whole concept of religion was wrong.
They identified religion and pleasing God with the observing of rules and regulations which had to do with cleanness and with uncleanness, with what a person ate and with how they washed their hands before eating; Jesus identified religion with the state of a person's heart, and said bluntly that these Pharisaic and Scribal regulations had nothing to do with religion.
What matters to God is not so much how we act, but why we act; not so much what we ritually do, but what is in our heart of hearts. It is Jesus' teaching (and it is a teaching which confronts every one of us) that no person can call themselves good because they observe external rituals; only when a person's heart is pure can they entertain such a thought. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8).
Jason E. Royle
Welcome to my blog. I'm an open-minded theologian committed to Christ-like compassion & understanding.
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