1 Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2 they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 3 (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4 and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) 5 So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?" 6 He said to them, "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.' 8 You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, "Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile." 21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."
The word defile means “to make common.” When we think about all of the things that go on around us as part of the culture in which we live, we have to acknowledge that we are influenced by those behaviors. It was not long ago that people would not use some language in public or in “mixed company” yet today it seems like we are the ones who should be embarrassed if we are offended by such words. Our television shows are loaded with scenes that do not promote care for others or appropriate expressions of love and respect for others. Our legal and societal systems are skewed to favor certain groups, especially those in power (and may not even be aware that they have any greater power than anyone else). That which is common is clearly not holy. God sets us apart to be holy as He is holy.
So how do we go about living a holy life when we are surrounded by the common? We have to look at how Jesus lived; obedient to God’s commandments while not overtly defiant of human laws. The custom of washing one’s hands before eating was symbolic of washing away that which might make a person ritually unclean. But what about washing away that which is in our hearts that is tainted by the world? We don’t have a scrub brush for that save in Jesus Christ, who fills us with God’s Holy Spirit and returns us to righteous living.
As the rain washes away the dirt from the air and leaves a fresh smell, so God cleans and refreshes us with the Holy Spirit. But we have to be willing to accept that cleansing. It is a deep cleaning, and sometimes it will hurt, but in the end we are born anew in Christ, purified inside out.