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Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”
When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. He said to them, “Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
In or Out
Now when I was a boy growing up in Norfolk, Virginia, this was a phrase I heard all the time during the summer. You see, Hampton Roads can get really hot and humid. But as a child of the sixties, we didn’t have much choice but to play outside. Still with the high heat and humidity, being outdoors wasn’t exactly pleasant. And so often we’d take short trips into the sauna and then, after a few minutes, we’d retreat back into our pre-air conditioned house. And when we couldn’t take that furnace anymore, we would head out the door again. And we’d be stuck in this loop until Mom would eventually say, “Either in or out, you make the decision.” And I’ll tell you, after hearing those words, we always did.
And I think these three words points to an issue that we often face in living our faith and which Christ addressed in this passage. I mean, just like those folks living almost two thousand years ago, a lot of believers now-a-days seem far more worried about what goes into a person than what comes out. And even though the issue when Jesus was teaching had to do with stuff like food, I think now we tend to focus on ideas. In other words, I think a lot of dedicated believers work really hard to ward off ideas that they consider dangerous. You see, they seem to take great pains to isolate themselves so they might avoid getting exposed to anything that might cause them either to question or to doubt. And yet, using Jesus’s own words, it’s not what goes into a person that causes real problems. Rather, it’s what comes out, and I’m talking about the arrogance and the intolerance and the hatred that might result from our perspectives and opinions. But regardless of whether we’re talking about food or ideas, we might want to pay closer attention to what comes out rather than on what goes in.