In an old episode of the cartoon, Tom and Jerry, Tom goes on the run from Jerry’s protector, Spike, the bulldog. The tomcat gets free just long enough to get inside and slams the door shut behind him. He starts locking it, and there are a lot of locks. Deadbolts, padlocks, chains, and keys, one after the other, down the whole door frame. Tom locks them all and bars the door. Then, for good measure, nails some boards over it. Finally safe, Tom relaxes. He takes a deep breath and turns around—and there’s Spike. The scene goes dark as Tom realizes he has locked himself inside with the bulldog.
The Pharisees imagined they could keep sin out if they washed their hands and their bodies and cups and pitchers and couches. The ceremonies and restrictions in their diet were like locks on Tom’s door. That is how we are with our sin when we try to keep it at bay with piety, devotion, and church attendance. Jesus teaches the futility of this by giving us a biology lesson. Everything we eat passes right through. Meanwhile, from our hearts, a litany of evil. The call is coming from inside the house. We are Trojans manning the walls after the horse is already inside the gates.
We are locked inside with our sin and can only pray with David, “God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). The gospel gives us the answer. While our hearts overflow with incurable deceit, Jesus could not even stop the crowds from proclaiming how good He was. “They were extremely astonished and said, ‘He has done everything well’” (Mark 7:37).
This is a deeply incarnational moment in the Gospels. The body is center-stage. Hands, tongue, stomach, ears, fingers. We see the gritty, messy details of embodied life. Jesus spits. Dirty hands are mistaken for evil hearts. And in contrast, God reveals what goodness looks like—a person who can astonish everyone with how well He lives. In a person who overflowed with goodness, God unlocked the doors of our hearts and healed.
The Pharisees and scribes and crowds were all trapped inside with their sin. Custom, ceremony, and tradition were padlocks, chains, and deadbolts. They boasted in human doctrine, so Jesus reminded them of hypocrites’ vain worship which “honors me with their lips” (Mark 7:6). Then Mark shows us a man whose lips struggle to speak. Jesus placed a dusty hand on his tongue and the man spoke clearly. Jesus opened his ears to “hear joy and gladness” (Psalm 51:8). He came into the world to offer the same to us.