When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear and understand: Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man” – Matthew 15:10, 11
Growing up, we were encouraged to wash our hands before we eat because we were taught that “cleanliness is next to godliness”. The Pharisees and scribes had a problem with Jesus’ disciples eating with first washing their hands. In their eyes this was unthinkable because it was breaking their tradition.
In response to their complaint, Jesus pointed out that they were breaking God’s law for the sake of their tradition by letting people think that it was okay for them to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ They were basically saying that the people they don’t need to honor their parents. They were placing their tradition above God’s commandment. Jesus called them on their hypocrisy. There they were criticizing the disciples for eating food without washing their hands and yet they were encouraging people to dishonor their parents, worshipping God in vain and teaching as doctrine the commandments of men. These were the same people who bore malice toward Jesus and plotted to destroy Him when He healed a man on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:14).
Jesus made it clear to the crowd that it is not eating food with unwashed hands that makes defiles a person it is what is inside the person that defiles the person. “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” Ironically, these people thought that ceremonial washing of the hands before eating make them clean but inside they were defiled–unclean. They were filled with evil thoughts and intentions toward Jesus, they committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit by attributing His power to Satan (Matthew 12:24-32). They had murder in their hearts. These things defiled them. They may have had clean hands but their hearts were far from clean. Eating food with unwashed did not defile the disciples.
This exchange between Jesus and the religious leaders had nothing to do with diet. Jesus wasn’t declaring that all foods are good to eat as some believe and teach. He was telling them that what comes out of them defiles them not what goes in. Clean hearts are more important than clean hands. Like David, we should pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10).