Some Pharisees and teachers of religious law came from Jerusalem to see Jesus and noticed that some of his disciples failed to follow the Jewish ritual of hand washing before eating. (The Jews, especially the Pharisees, don’t eat until they have poured water over their cupped hands, as required by their traditions. In the same way, they won’t eat anything that comes from the market until they’ve immersed their hands in water. This is only one of many traditions that they cling to—such as the ceremonial washing of cups, pitchers, and kettles.)
So the Pharisees and teachers of religious law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples follow our traditions? They’re eating without having washed their hands first.”
“Isaiah was right,” said Jesus, “when he prophesied about you hypocrites, for he wrote: ‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain, because they’re simply following man-made rules.’ You see, you’ve ignored the commands of God and substituted your own traditions.”
Then he told them, “You’ve actually set aside God’s law to keep your own traditions, because Moses said: ‘Honour your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God) you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. In this way, you nullify the word of God by the tradition you’ve handed down. And you do many other things like that.”
Then Jesus called the crowd around him again.
“Listen to this,” he said, “and make certain that you understand it properly. There is nothing which goes into your body that can defile you. It’s only what comes out of your heart that defiles you.”
After he had left the crowd and gone into the house, Jesus’s disciples asked him what he meant by the illustration he’d just given.
“Don’t you understand either?” he asked. “Can’t you see that nothing that comes in from the outside can defile you? Food doesn’t go into your heart, but into your stomach, and then passes out again into the sewer.” (In saying this, Jesus declared that all food was lawful to eat.)
Then he added, “It’s what comes out of a person that defiles him. It’s from the heart – that is, from within a person – that evil thoughts come. For example: sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desire, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these evils come from inside, and they are what defile you.”