Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.” “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.” – Matthew 15: 15-20
So here is the “rest of the story” as Paul Harvey used to say. Jesus provides the explanation for his disciples of the previous conversation with the teachers of the law about hand washing and human traditions. Jesus is not so impressed by the reasoning abilities of the disciples asking them “are you still so dull?”
Jesus goes on to explain that what enters the mouth passes right through the body, but the things that come out of a person’s mouth, words, are what can defile them. The words that a person chooses reflect the state of their heart, and by analogy, their soul. It is the heart and soul of a person that results in “defiling” not what they eat or whether they wash their hands before they eat.
From a secular perspective the washing of hands on a regular basis can prevent all sorts of physical illness and contamination from the food and water we consume, but Jesus knows this. Yet He still makes this point that it is not physical illness or contamination that we should worry about — it is soul defiling or contamination. So what is soul contamination? What are the symptoms of it? More importantly how do we prevent it from happening?
Jesus provides a list of some of the symptoms of soul contamination. I am pretty sure this is not exhaustive, but He specifically lists “evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” If everyone could avoid this list of soul contamination symptoms the world would a pretty different place. Just the sort of place that Jesus was trying to usher into the world through the disciples and His teaching.
It turns out the list is pretty comprehensive in that it includes that all encompassing first item, “evil thoughts”. This would include all thoughts that are out of sync with the will of God for our lives. I think Jesus was trying to make the point that following God in this new way is much harder and more comprehensive than the list of rules and practices that the teachers of the law were practicing. They were stuck hoarding their “old treasures” at the expense of a more effective way to follow and love God.
So back to the original question swirling about in this eddy of epistemology; do we need to wash our hands to be clean? Maybe from a purely physical perspective it is a good idea, but we should not fool ourselves that cleaning of that sort, or any other physical act, can take the place of the deep soul cleansing accomplished on the cross.
Prayer: God help us to accept the deep soul cleansing accomplished on cross that was freely given to all those willing the accept it.