14 And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”  17 And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?”  (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:14-23 (ESV)
Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from the outside cannot defile him since it enters not his hear but his stomach? … and he said what comes out of a person is what defiles him.
It’s amazing how often food becomes part and parcel of religion. It’s true, God had prescribed dietary laws for the Israelites to set them apart from other peoples. Yet food and religion go hand in hand like body and soul. The two seem to be intimately connected in ways that are hard to understand. Cultures declare foods clean and unclean and often don’t even know why. Today, the dietary laws of Hindus are famous, and cows are regarded as sacred. Muslims have adopted the dietary laws of the Old Testament in large part, and you still can’t get a cheeseburger in Tel Aviv. Vegans run rampant through the streets never tiring of telling of the evils of eating meat and dairy. And to this day, people in America are offended at the eating of horse. (This actually has a lot to do with the sacredness of the horse in Germanic culture that gave it preeminence as a sacrificial animal to be eaten, especially on the eve of battle. One of the first thing Christian missionaries then did was put an end to the eating of horse meat.) but it’s the gluten free diet that proves to be the gospel of salvation for most. I know there are people who can’t handle it. And I don’t mean to be little anyone who actually suffers from celiac, but I’m just a little skeptical that such a huge portion of a population built on the cultivation of wheat could be so allergic that not only is hard cider gaining market share on beer with its advertisement of Gluten Free, but a few years ago the Church of Sweden tried to use the same tact to get people back to church advertising Gluten free wafers. (They’ve been around for a while, and if you need them ask.) So far I don’t think it has had the results they were hoping for, but it does touch upon the relation of food to religion that we have in our own corner, a food that does not defile, but cleanses the defiled heart with the forgiveness of sins that the joy of salvation may be restored to our own hearts.
“The Kingdom of God,” Paul says, “is not a matter of eating or drinking.” Romans 14:17. This the reformers used to put an end to the abuse of forced fasting. Paul here addressing the Christians in Rome as to how they should regard the dietary laws of the Old Testament, but also how they should guard against giving offense to others as they ate meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Again, eating and drinking plays a huge part in most religions, and this was true of the world of antiquity also. There you either got your meat from a Jewish butcher, or likelihood was the meat you bought in the market would have been sacrificed to an idol. The temples were often known to have the best food. They would serve more or less as restaurants. But just as you can buy a Boston Market television dinner in the frozen section of the grocery store. You could buy the scraps from the temple in the market. To cook and serve this at home, was regarded by pagans to be just as much an act of worship as to eat it in the restaurant where you might have to tip a waitress/priestess. You can see where some Christians would have a qualm with this, while others might not have the same hang up when they were looking for a ribeye.
Paul however realized that the eating and drinking were distractions. They kind of religious distraction that we reserve for smoking and drinking. You might be careful not to give needless offense with it. But whether we eat or we drink, or refrain from doing so in certain cases, we do so to the glory of God, he says elsewhere. Yes, the simple act of eating a cheeseburger can be seen as something we do to the glory of God who has given us this food for the nourishment of our bodies which are his creation given to us to take care of, which perhaps means to avoid gluten if it really gives you trouble, and alcohol if it leads you to drunkenness. But in and of itself this sort of thing is indifferent. Eat what you like and drink what you like, because the kingdom of God does not consist in these things but rather in Righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit who has made us clean in the waters of baptism, but who continues to cleanse us from all unrighteousness through the forgiveness of sins given when we eat the true food and true drink, the body and blood of Jesus Christ, the sacrifice of sacrifices given to the one true God, our Father in heaven through which all people are made clean.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds. Amen