Mark 7:14-15 And he called the people to him again, and said to them, "Hear me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him."
There are many proverbs we live by, which do not come from the Bible. One of my favorites is, "a place for everything, and everything in its place." It comes from a book on household management in 1861, and is still good advice. If you don’t have a place for something, you will have trouble finding it, and it generally leads to a messy life filled with clutter. If you can’t find a place for something, there is some doubt whether you really need it in your life, because if it were important, you would find the room.
This brings us to the second proverb, also non-biblical – cleanliness is next to godliness. And this is important, because this proverb comes to us from the Pharisees. They had all kinds of rules regarding washing. Now there might be some rules which are important, even rules about washing, when you are told to wash your hands, it doesn’t mean running them under water and washing them on the towel – if you use soap, then the water washes the dirt down the sink, and it doesn’t end up on the towel. These are the kinds of things children need to learn, and heed – but the problem was that the Pharisees had so many rules about how things should be washed, and they thought that these rules were the most important thing in life. They really believed that if they could get clean enough, somehow that would make them godly, that is, pure and acceptable in the sight of God. And they thought that if your hands were not washed before you ate, that dirt could pass from your hands, to the food, and make you unclean – that is, unacceptable to God.
But here is the problem, you can follow all the rules about cleanliness that have ever been written, you can wash everything thoroughly – and even then, you will not be able to make yourself clean – that is acceptable in the sight of God. We have all manner of things that claim that they can deal with the most stubborn dirt or stain – and yet, though we can kill germs and bacteria and disinfect, and bleach things until they are white – the stain of sin remains, and not just the stain, we are born sinful and unclean – and there is nothing we can do to remove our own sinfulness.
There is nothing we can do to remove our sinfulness, but that’s not an excuse to give up – or a reason to stop trying. It does however say that we do need a different answer, if we cannot get ourselves clean, then we need to look elsewhere, to someone who can do what needs to be done, that we might be acceptable to God. Scriptures says we are all sinners. Scriptures says, the good that I would I do not and the evil that I would not, that I do, O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me? And the answer is Jesus.
If the evil comes from inside, from our hearts – then what we need is a new clean heart. Don’t we pray: Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me. When does this happen? It happens first at our baptism, and then it happens, every time we remember our baptism, which leads us to repent of our sin, drown the old sinful nature, and rise to the new life which is ours in Christ. It happens every time we hear the words of absolution, the good news, that in Christ all our sins have been taken away, and that we are a new creation – that in Christ, we are now acceptable to God, we are pure and holy – not because we washed our hands correctly, but because Jesus has taken away all our sins.