Given the way it all went down back in the Garden, it may seem odd for Jesus to say that what you eat does not effect the heart or defile you. And, after all, it was the Lord God Himself who differentiated between clean and unclean animals, and gave specific dietary laws for His people in the Old Testament. But the key is to be found, first of all, in the Word that God has spoken.
Sin and death are not found in food per se, as part of God’s good creation. Neither food nor drink of itself can defile or cleanse you, damn you or save you. Neither fasting nor feasting make you righteous before God. But the way in which His creation is received and used — the way in which your food and drink are consumed — is measured by the Word of the Lord, whether in faith and love, or in idolatry and unbelief.
All things are sanctified by the Word of God and prayer, and are to be received from the hand of God with thanksgiving. All things are lawful to those who trust in Him, and all foods are clean to the one who eats and drinks in faith, as the gifts of God are regarded and used in accordance with His holy Word.
For faith is content, satisfied and happy with what God has given, be it much or little; and faith is happy for the neighbor, too, with whatever God has given him. You are not afraid to enjoy what is yours in the freedom of such faith. And you are not angered by what you do not have, as though your life depended on it.
By faith, you are neither angry nor afraid of anything, but at home and at peace in your Father’s world: a beloved child in His house, and a free citizen of His Kingdom.
So, what’s the problem?
Your enemy is not flesh and blood: not your neighbor’s flesh and blood, nor the flesh and blood of any critter, fruit or vegetable. Not food and drink, but the devil is your enemy, with all of his assaults and accusations. He tempts you to sin, then drives you to despair. And your sinful heart is not only vulnerable to his attacks, but conspires with the devil and the sinful world against you.
As a child of Adam and Eve — who ate, not according to God’s Word in faith, but contrary to His Word in doubt and disobedience — your own sinful heart does not fear, love, and trust in God, nor heed His commandments. You are not at peace, and you do not feel safe and secure, because you do not believe in Him; you do not believe His promises or trust His providence.
You cannot protect, rescue, or save yourself from this turmoil and unrest, because you are the problem. Not the Lord, nor His creation, but you are your own worst enemy.
Because your heart is not right with God, your body and life in the world are not righteous and holy, either. You do not receive and use God’s good creation rightly, but despise it on the one hand, and make an idol out of it and worship it on the other hand. You also sin with and against your neighbor in your thoughts, words, and actions. You hurt him and speak ill of him. You take his stuff, or wish you could get away with it, and you covet his spouse and children. You burn with envy and jealousy, hatred and lust, because you lack the wisdom and understanding of God.
Consequently, you do not know how to live, not really; and you are not able to “possess the land” or live in it, although God Himself has given you all good things by His grace. You do not see or trust what He is doing for you, so you stumble about from one sin to another, finally into death.
Of yourself, you do not have ears to hear; nor can your heart or mind comprehend the Word of the Lord and His good gifts.
But, now, listen to Christ Jesus. Hear what He says, even before it begins to make sense to you.
For His Word actually opens your ears — it gives you ears to hear, and opens them to His Voice — and opens your heart and mind to understand what He says, and to believe and trust in Him.
And here He has called you into His house to catechize you, in order to make you His disciple, His Christian, by grace through faith in His Word. By this catechesis, as by your Baptism into Him, He has made of you a new creation, and behold, in Him all things are made brand new. All things are cleansed and sanctified by the Word that He speaks to you. So, listen to Him, and hear Him.
Out of your own sinful heart proceed all kinds of evil things.
But out of His great heart of love proceed grace, mercy, and peace, forgiveness, life, and salvation.
So has He come forth from the Father and become flesh and blood for you and for all people. He has entered into and become a part of His Creation, by His conception and birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary (by His Word and Holy Spirit). What is more, He has redeemed and sanctified all flesh, and all of creation, in Himself — in His Body, born of Mary, crucified and risen.
Not only has He atoned for all your sins, in order to forgive you, by His sacrificial death, by the shedding of His holy, precious blood; but in Himself, in His life in the flesh, and in His bodily Resurrection from the dead, He has established faith and love for you, and set things right with God and man, both inwardly and outwardly, now and forever.
All of this is what He gives to you, in giving you Himself, by and with His Word of the Gospel, and by and with His own Body and His Blood in this Holy Supper.
His Word thereby declares you to be clean: holy and righteous before Him, in the presence of His God and Father in heaven.
For He cleanses and sanctifies your heart and mind, body and soul, by the free and full forgiveness of all your sins. As He has done by the washing of water with His Word, and as He daily continues to do by the catechesis of His Word and the preaching of His Gospel.
That is the Truth, with which you are girded: That all of your sins are forgiven. That you are holy, innocent, and pure. That your body, soul, and spirit are blameless in Christ Jesus, your Savior.
That is your righteousness, or, more precisely, His righteousness, which is credited to you, by which your heart is guarded from attack, so that the flaming darts of the devil cannot pierce you.
That is your perfect peace with God in Christ, in which you proceed in love for your neighbor, in your own place, your own proper vocations, so that you possess the land that God has given you.
So, then, by faith, take up this shield by giving heed to the Word of Christ: by listening to Him, and by confessing what He has spoken. And wear the helmet of salvation by filling your head, your thoughts and conversations, including your internal “dialogue,” with your Savior’s Voice.
Do not simply attempt to shut your ears to the devil’s lies — as though you could stop him by sticking your fingers in your ears and wagging your tongue at him — but rather fill your ears with the Truth of Christ Jesus. Soak up the Scriptures, the preaching, and the hymns of the Church.
And then take up that Sword of the Spirit by speaking as you have heard, and by the prayer and intercession of the Word of God. Pray for the mercies of the Lord, for the gifts of the Spirit, and for the heart and mind of Christ. Pray, knowing that your Father hears and answers your prayer, according to His Word and promise in His beloved Son.
And pray, too, for the ministry and preaching of the Gospel — and specifically for your pastors in Christ, that they might continue to wield the Sword of the Spirit for the benefit of the Church on earth, for you and for your neighbors.
That ministry and preaching of Christ come from outside of you, from the Lord your God, who loves you. They come to you from Him, in order to set you free from sin and every evil; and to feed you with a consecrated Food and Drink, which are the flesh and blood of Christ Himself.
Here is a holy Food, which not only enters your mouth and your stomach, but into your very heart and soul, your mind and your body, in order to cleanse you within and without, to heal you and give you life, both now and forever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A sword in the hat is better than a foot in your mouth. All the better if it is that double-bladed sword that slices and dices between bone and marrow. But I have always liked to sort things out by thinking out loud with friends and colleagues. And since my opportunities to do so are limited, I figure I can multiply my thinking and sorting here.
Married 31 years, my wife and I have had ten children born to us (six boys, four girls); we have another son and daughter by marriage (and will soon have another daughter by marriage), a son who went ahead of us to heaven from the womb, six grandchildren and counting. I was ordained in 1996, and have been the pastor of Emmaus since then. I have a Ph.D. in Liturgical Studies from the University of Notre Dame (2003), and an S.T.M. from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana