And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person. Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” (Matthew 15:10-11)
My mom used to say, “Watch your mouth!” What she meant was, “Don’t say that again if you don’t want to be gargling Lifebuoy [or Dial or Zest–blecch].” Her reprimand typically followed some form of what she called “talking back.” It was my way of justifying my behavior, or suggesting that she might modify the command somewhat.
Jesus was no pushover. Time after time, Jesus went head to head with the religious leaders of his day, nudging–no, shoving–against their conventional wisdom. Matthew 15 presents a good example of the role our mouth can play in our spiritual development (or the lack thereof).
The Pharisees and lawyers came to Jesus, complaining about ceremonial washing. Specifically, they wanted the disciples to wash their hands before eating. Now we all know that’s good sanitary practice, but the religious leaders had something else in mind. Jesus seized the moment to teach about kingdom life.
What comes out of our mouth, Jesus says, defiles us far more than anything we put in it. What does Jesus mean? First and foremost, Jesus says (in verse 19), “evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” come out of the heart through the mouth. But he also means the hypocrisy of his audience. They want to observe ceremony on principle, but they ignore a commandment if it suits their purposes.
Jesus shows that the religious leaders were “talking back” to God. And that is what we must avoid at all costs. Think about it this way: When we say, “I know you said so-and-so, God, but in my case, can we tweak the command a bit?” we’re talking back (my Southern grandmother called it sassing).
We must certainly avoid the overt sin Jesus mentions, and we must avoid the hypocrisy he suggests too. But don’t allow sassing to get in the way of your relationship either.