In recent Bible studies in Skagit County Jail and in our Tierra Nueva worshipping community I have been struck by Jesus’ unusual approach regarding substances, whether they be food, drink or drugs. In substance abuse and recovery circles (and vegan and other religious circles too) there is often intense scrutiny around what goes into the body—via stomach, lungs or veins. Jesus’ words to the crowd in Mark 7:14-16 are counter-cultural to twelve-step and religious communities.
“Listen to me, all of you, and understand!” Jesus insists, inviting his audience to pay particular attention to what follows-- Jesus’ underlined and bold-faced message. But will we understand?
“There is nothing outside the person which can defile him/her if it goes into her/him; but the things which proceed out of the person are what defile the person” (7:16), states Jesus, followed by an emphatic “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.
At this point I define “defile” as “to make unclean.” I add that back in Jesus’ time most religious leaders considered someone becoming unclean through the contagion of direct contact with the dead, lepers, the disabled, blood and through eating certain foods prohibited by the Old Testament law, like pork. Being unclean was seen as keeping people from God’s presence, and from religiously “clean” people or places.