September 2, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“And [Jesus] said, ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil thing come from within, and they defile a person.’”
“Garbage in; garbage out” is a familiar phrase. I learned it back when first using computers back in junior high and high school. The phrase refers to data and commands when programming and running programs. If the data is wrong, the computations based on them will be “correct” but not what is intended. If the commands are incorrect, the program will not function as desired. The “garbage”—the incorrect things—that is put in will lead to the “garbage”—the incorrect results—that is put out.
The “garbage in; garbage out” concept has been expanded beyond computer science or information technology. Any field that involves analysis or manipulation of data can use it. But the concept even comes into thoughts about sin. This is seen in Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees that we have heard last Sunday and this morning. The issue of defilement was the point of contention. What makes a person unclean or defiled before the Lord? Last Sunday, the question focused on what was done or not done prior to eating. Today, the question focuses on the eating itself.
So is the defilement of man a matter of “garbage in; garbage out”? That appears to be the general concept among the people that Jesus addresses. Eat an unclean food, and you will become unclean. But Jesus’ statement counters that: “And He called the people to Him again and said to them, ‘Hear Me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.’” Nothing outside a person that goes into them defiles the person. Instead, things that are already inside the person are what make him unclean.
This was a complete adjustment in thinking that Jesus gives the people. In fact, it confused His own disciples: “And when [Jesus] had entered the house and left the people, His disciples asked Him about the parable.” You can see what the Twelve were thinking: “Wait a minute! How is it possible that a person can eat something unclean but not have it make him unclean? What are you saying here, Jesus?” What their Master said ran against what the disciples had been taught for years. It stood against what the scribes and Pharisees had been handing down to the people for generations. It even seemed to contradict what Moses had spoken in the Law.
But Jesus’ explanation of His statement starts to show the truth about it: “Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” Jesus is saying here: “Think about it. You all eat food. And where does that food go? It goes in your belly, but it doesn’t stay there. No, it leaves the belly and enters the latrine. However, the defilement of man is something much more deeper than that. Defilement has to do with lack of holiness or righteousness.”
The deeper issue of defilement is what Jesus addresses with His explanation: “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil thing come from within, and they defile a person.” Jesus deals with the matter of man’s nature, what is in people’s hearts and souls. With His words, Jesus is saying: “Take a look at your own heart. Look closely. What’s in there? All sorts of problematic thoughts, all sorts of desires that are unrighteous. Deep down in there you have the craving and yearning for doing what the Lord has declared to be vices. But what the Lord declares to be virtuous are not naturally found.”
Jesus points out that the defilement of man is already there. It’s not a matter of “garbage in; garbage out.” No, the junk, the scum, the vileness are already in the heart. It’s not like you have a clean vessel that you tarnish. No, it is as Bo Giertz so vividly put it in his Hammer of God book: “The heart is a rusty old can on a junk heap.” Your heart is full of sludge from the moment you live. You’ve got all those evil desires latent in you. So it should be no surprise that actions based on those thoughts flow out of you. Hearing and receiving Jesus’ teaching leads to the statement that you make in the Confession of Sins: “We poor sinners confess unto You that we are by nature sinful and unclean and that we have sinned against You by thought, word, and deed.” Sinful and unclean—it is the admission that you are defiled. You are defiled in the Lord’s presence because of what you naturally are, because of how your heart is.
So what is to be done about this matter of defilement? Because Jesus says that what comes out of the heart of man defiles an individual, the problem can’t be remedied by adjustment of behavior or adjustment of diet. It’s not the external actions that really make a person unrighteous. And it’s not what you ingest that defiles you. No, the problem is what to do with the cesspool of your hearts, the cesspool that has been there since your first days. What is the bleach or detergent that can work on that?
What you need is something that enters you but doesn’t go into your belly, but into your heart. It has to be something holy and undefiled. It must have the ability to give life where nothing but death is found, to bring into existence righteousness where there is none found. This is what the Lord offers to you in His Gospel. You need the forgiveness that it brings because the Holy One offered Himself in sacrifice for you.
Your defiled hearts need a cleansing, and that is what the Lord gives you. Think again on the words of Scripture connected to Holy Baptism that you learned from the catechism: “God saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” A washing of rebirth and renewal is precisely what your defiled hearts have received. You are cleansed as you heard in last Sunday’s Epistle Reading: “[Christ] cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”
You have taken in the divine words of the gospel. They have been ingested into your hearts. And what are those words of the gospel? They are the descriptions of who Jesus is and what He has done. They are what you have heard concerning Jesus’ nature: that He did not have a defiled heart, but a heart that always desired to do the Father’s will. They are what you have heard concerning Jesus’ work: that He marked His life with everything opposite of that list of evil thoughts that flow out of the heart of man. Out of your hearts flow “sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.” But out of Jesus’ heart come purity, generosity, the giving of life, complete devotion, the wanting others to have what possesses, goodness, truth, spirituality, joy, speaking well, humility, and wisdom. They are given to be your own. That is what the gospel words apply to you.
But this taking in the gospel words is not just a one-time deal. It is a repeated action. Over and over the cleansing of your defiled hearts happens. The cleansing begun in Holy Baptism is renewed in Holy Absolution and your hearing of the preaching of the gospel. It happens through your eating—not by eating an earthly food, but by eating the bread that came down from heaven, Christ’s flesh that He gave for the life of the world. Washing and repeating over and over again, you receive the cleansing that your defiled hearts need. This is what brings you holiness. Through them a divine action is done for you, as Bo Giertz also vividly described in his novel: “But a wonderful Lord passes by, and has mercy on the wretched tin can, sticks His walking cane through it, and rescues it from the junk pile and takes it home with Him.” Or as Moses spoke about the Lord’s people, even you: “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon Him?” He is near, when you call upon Him to perform His cleansing acts for your benefit.
Then the change happens to your nature. Yes, you are by nature sinful and unclean. But now you have another nature, a new and holy nature given to you. You are a new person who daily emerges and arises to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. There are new thoughts, clean thoughts, righteous thoughts. There are even actions that you perform that flow from that new nature. You have the desire to follow the way of life that the Lord has established for you, so that you can say with the psalmist: “Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them.” It is a statement true for you as the Lord has brought cleansing to your hearts. You want what the Lord provides, so you have prayed: “O God, the source of all that is just and good, nourish in us every virtue and bring to completion every good intent that we may grow in grace and bring forth the fruit of good works.” Your hearts and souls now have a “righteousness in; righteousness out” status.
So as you have heard Jesus’ words today, recognize that your guilt is great and that your hearts were nothing but defiled. But also know that His righteousness is greater than your guilt and that His cleansing has made them holy. This is the extent of His generosity, even daring to pick up the wretched tin cans and making them His prized possessions. You have generously received the washing of rebirth and renewal. Treasure it. Remember it. Trust it. For from outside yourselves, you have received righteousness from Jesus, the Holy One of God. And He has cleansed you to be His own.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.