In Mark 7:14-23, Jesus says it isn’t what we eat that makes us impure, it’s what’s in our hearts.
Jesus summoned the crowd again and said to them,
“Hear me, all of you, and understand.
Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person;
but the things that come out from within are what defile.”
When he got home away from the crowd
his disciples questioned him about the parable.
He said to them,
“Are even you likewise without understanding?
Do you not realize that everything
that goes into a person from outside cannot defile,
since it enters not the heart but the stomach
and passes out into the latrine?”
(Thus he declared all foods clean.)
“But what comes out of the man, that is what defiles him.
From within the man, from his heart,
come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder,
adultery, greed, malice, deceit,
licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.
All these evils come from within and they defile.”
This passage comes from another chapter on Jesus versus the Pharisees, men of the Temple who put their rules above God and humanity. In my copy of the Bible, a fuller reading of this chapter is a bit more about this encounter. The Pharisees can’t believe the disciples haven’t purified their hands before eating. And Jesus laments that they require a whole ritual around the purification of foods and eating implements, of what can be eaten and what cannot. Here, Jesus outright explains, nothing that comes from outside the body can make you impure — it’s what comes from inside, from the heart, that makes you impure. And then Jesus goes on to list all the things that come from from the heart that will make you impure.
This passage I present here is from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The list in my Bible (a Catholic Bible) is a little older but the list reads: “Wicked designs come from the deep recesses of the heart: acts of fornication, theft, murder, adulterous conduct, greed, maliciousness, deceit, sensuality, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, an obtuse spirit. All these evils come from within and render a man impure.” It’s a little different wording, while giving the same spirit of Jesus’s message.
Both versions say that Jesus declares all foods clean. So, there’s that. But His message here is that the Pharisees — essentially anyone who puts more emphasis on the letter of the law and the traditions of man, instead of the heart or intent of the law, who puts the law ahead of the interests of God and humanity — miss the central understanding that the fault lies not in what we take in but in what we issue outward, in particular what comes from our hearts. And when that happens, what usually comes from our hearts can be evil and, thus, can make us impure.
And as always, Jesus’s message is that the most important law is to love God and to love one another. When we put our emphasis on that law, there is less room in the heart for evil, less impure to issue out. Be of love and be more pure.
Glory to God!