Jesus then locates the source of impurity not in what is external to us (including meats and drinks), but in the fountainhead of our hearts: “From within, from the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder. . . . All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21, 23). What defiles and corrupts us is not in certain victuals but in our vital regions! Our Lord then zeroes in on what is truly full of toxins and poison: our fleshly frame and inner nature, conceived and born in sin (Ps. 51:5).
The Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn insightfully wrote, “Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts.”
As we minister the gospel in the context of the rise of foodie-ism, where “celebrity chefs are the gurus of this age” and many are devoting an overly obsessive attention to what is eaten, what can we take from the Lord’s teaching in this text?
First, there is now liberty to eat all manner of foods, because included in this instruction is Mark’s inspired observation that Jesus “declared all foods clean” (Mark 7:19). Christians should beware of assigning spiritual significance to one kind of food over another, and to avoid embracing any silly suggestions that the Bible prescribes a particular diet for individual believers. We need not be too persnickety about what we choose to eat or in how we assess the dietary choices of our fellow brothers and sisters (Rom. 14).
Second, if guilt is not to be found in foods that are consumed, neither is cleansing from guilt to be sought in such either. “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do” (1 Cor. 8:8). All food has an expiration date, and our Lord commands us “not to work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life” (John 6:27). What is that enduring food but the Word of God? It is through this Word that we experience the true inner catharsis, definitive purification: “Already you are clean because of the word I have spoken to you” (John 15:3). The author of Hebrews exhorts the church: “It is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them” (Heb. 13:9). Here is milk to drink and meat to eat that “does the church body good.”
Third, as the church gathers regularly to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we rejoice in partaking of a meal given to signify and seal our union with our Savior and with one another as brothers and sisters in God’s redeemed family. In other words, here is one antidote against the elitism and one-upmanship of foodie-ism and Pharisaism, for at this table all have the same status as saints in Christ, and there is no distinction (1 Cor. 12:13). In eating this bread and drinking this cup, all communicants together are engaged in gospel proclamation (1 Cor. 11:26), thereby nullifying all bragging rights in ourselves and “pouring contempt on all [our] pride.”