If you think back to Genesis and the Fall into sin, it may seem odd for Jesus to say that what you eat does not effect the heart or defile you. Not only that, but 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 to all of this is found, first of all, in the Word that God has spoken.
Sin and death are not caused or determined by food per se, which is 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 you receive and use His good creation — including the way that you consume your food and drink — is measured by the Word of the Lord, whether you are acting in faith and love, or in disobedience, idolatry, and unbelief.
All things are sanctified by the Word of God and prayer, and His good creation is to be received from His hand with thanksgiving. All things are lawful to those who trust in the Lord, and all foods are clean to the one who eats and drinks in such faith, as the gifts of God are regarded and used in accordance with His Commandments.
Faith is content, satisfied, and happy with whatever God has given you, be it much or little; and faith is happy for the neighbor, too, with whatever God has given to him. You need not be afraid to enjoy and to use what the Lord has entrusted to your stewardship in the freedom of faith in Christ. Nor should you be angered by what you do not have, as though your life depended on it.
Indeed, by faith you are neither angry nor afraid of anything, because you are at home and at peace in your Father’s world. You are a beloved child in His house and a free citizen of His Kingdom.
So, what on earth has gone wrong? And why is life in the flesh so precarious and difficult?
Flesh and blood are not your enemy; neither 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 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; it actually conspires with the devil and the sinful world.
Back in the Garden, Adam and Eve did not eat according to God’s Word in faith, but contrary to His Word in doubt and disobedience. As their child, you do not fear, love, and trust in God, nor do you heed His commandments. You have no peace or rest, 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.
Because your heart is not right with God, your body and life in the world are not righteous and holy, either. Instead of receiving and using God’s good creation rightly, you either despise and demonize it with contempt, or you idolize and worship the creation as a false god. You also sin with and against your neighbor in what you think and say and do. You hurt him and speak ill of him. You take his stuff, or you would if you could. You covet his spouse and children. You burn with envy and jealousy, hatred and lust, because you lack the wisdom and understanding of God.
With such a sinful heart, you don’t know how to live. Apart from faith in Christ, you are not able to “possess the land” in love, although God gives you all good things by 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.
But now, listen to Christ Jesus. Hear what He says, even before it begins to make sense to you.
By His Word and Spirit, He has called you into His house to catechize you, to make you a disciple, a Christian, by His grace through faith in His Word. By this catechesis, as by your Holy Baptism, He has made of you a new creation. Indeed, all things are made brand new in Him. All things are cleansed and sanctified by the Word that He speaks to you. Therefore, listen to Him and hear Him.
From out of your own sinful heart proceed all kinds of evil things (even more than you know!).
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, accomplished by His Word and Holy Spirit. What is more, He has redeemed and sanctified all flesh, and all of creation, in His own Body 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, by His life in the flesh, and by His bodily Resurrection from the dead, He has established the righteousness of faith and love, for you and for all, and He has set things right with God and man, both inwardly and outwardly, now and forever.
All of this that He has done for you is what He also now gives to you, as He gives Himself to you by and with His Word of the Gospel, and by and with His Body and Blood in this Holy Supper.
His Word thereby declares you to be clean. He speaks, and it is so. You are holy and righteous before Him and in Him, in the presence of His God and Father in heaven, because He says so.
He cleanses and sanctifies your heart and mind, body and soul, by the free and full forgiveness of all your sins. So has He done by the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism, and so does He continue to do by the catechesis of His Word and the preaching of His Holy Gospel.
That is the Truth with which you are girded. All of your sins are forgiven. You are holy, innocent, and pure. Your body, soul, and spirit are blameless in Christ Jesus, your Savior.
That is your righteousness — the righteousness of Christ 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 now live in love for your neighbor within your own station in life, and by which you do “possess the land” that God has given you.
So, then, take up this shield of faith 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 up your head with your Savior’s Voice. Let Him permeate your inward thoughts and your outward conversations.
Do not simply attempt to shut your ears to the devil’s lies, as though you could shut him down by sticking your fingers in your ears and wagging your tongue at him. Rather, fill your ears with the Truth of Christ Jesus. Soak up the Holy Scriptures, the preaching, and the hymns of the Church.
Then take up that Sword of the Spirit by confessing what 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 Jesus. Pray in this way, knowing and believing that your Father in heaven hears and answers your prayer according to the Word and promise of His beloved Son.
Pray also for the ministry and preaching of the Holy Gospel, and specifically for your pastors in Christ Jesus, that they would be enabled to wield the Sword of the Spirit for the benefit of the Church on earth, for your own sake and for the good of 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 Body and Blood of Christ Himself.
This Meal of the Lord is a holy and Spiritual 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.