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Supersize Fries and the Gospel
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Key Passage: Matthew 15; Mark 7
 
Key Thought: Jesus’ main concern regarding what we take into our bodies involved the spiritual realm. We are polluted by sinful ideals, by feasting on gossip and lies and false doctrines. That doesn’t mean it won’t harm a Christian who puts poisons into his stomach or lungs!

Question: Does it make any difference what you have for supper tonight? If a meal has either 350 calories or 1,500, does it matter? What if your menu options are:

1.  A sackful of Krispy Kremes and a main course of LDL-packed pasta primavera, sometimes dubbed “heart attack on a platter”

2.  A green salad, low-fat dressing, with a diet soda and an apple for dessert

Is one going to hurt you more than another?

The Bible and Our Grocery List: Christians have the option of considering as a diet Bible . . . the Bible! Both Testaments have quite a bit to say about what you should order when you go out to Jack in the Box for lunch next Monday.

Another hard Saying: We’re taking a look in the gospels at some of the hard-to-understand things Jesus the Diet Doctor is recorded as having said. Today we have to really scratch our heads and recheck our calorie counters. Because in both Matthew 15 and Mark 7, He seems to say to all of us who stand on the scales every morning: “Hey, relax! It doesn’t matter. Eat anything you want, because it makes no difference.”

Matt. 15:10, 11: “Listen and understand. What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’” “It defileth” (KVJ).

Jesus says this to a whole crowd of people at a Weight Watchers rally, but four verses later Peter and the disciples come to Him privately and Peter asks: “We don’t get it. What are you talking about?” Jesus replies: “Are you still so dull? Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the mouth come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean.’”

Soul Pollution Vs. Body: None of us could argue with Jesus when He teaches that our evil thoughts, our selfishness, adultery, our lies are all polluting agents. Have you ever felt “dirty” because of your sins? This is why we join King David in asking God to “cleanse” us, to wash us white as snow. But is it also true that all of the sugary things we put into our mouths just slide right through the system, staying for a couple of hours and then saying adios when we take a trip down the hall, second door on the left? Is Jesus scrapping all of the proven principles God gave Israel in Leviticus 11?

Media Illustration: Lawyer Samuel Hirsch filed a class-action lawsuit against McDonalds. Eight young people got fat eating Big Macs and having SuperSize fries and milkshakes on a once- or twice-a-day basis. Gregory Rhymes was a 15-year-old high schooler who already topped the scales at close to 400 pounds. And his mom must have been in the crowd the day this Matthew 15 sermon got preached, because she said in her deposition: “I just always believed McDonalds was healthy for my son.” NBC’s Saturday Night Live soon did a bitingly sarcastic comedy sketch about people too clueless to figure out that a hundred McDonalds “Big ‘N’ Tasty” sandwiches could cause weight gain, but there’s nothing amusing about the Herald Sun’s ominous conclusion: “Government statistics suggest around 300,000 deaths a year in the United States can be linked to obesity.”

Media Illustration: In the cancelled NBC drama Ed, a story line in late 2002 involved actor Michael R. Genadry, who played the part of Mark Vanacore. He was huge! One web site gently called him “gravitationally challenged,” but an episode, entitled “Makeovers,” had his doctor warning him he was a good 250 pounds overweight—with a father who had died of heart attack. He finally decided to have gastric bypass surgery, and lost 70 pounds.

But this youth, who simply loved to eat, who was driven to treat himself to endless gourmet confections, is living proof that Jesus must have meant something else when He said: “What you eat goes in—then out—and doesn’t hurt you. A trip to the little boys’ room solves everything.”

Tim Russert, host of Meet the Press, recently lost his life largely due to heart weakness and weight issues. Peter Jennings died because he was a cigarette smoker.

Two Realities: What is Jesus talking about? Is He specifically giving a lecture on diet? The NIV headings for both sections say it plainly: “Clean and Unclean.” The Pharisees have just posed this accusing question to Jesus: “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” (Matt. 15:2).

It’s true that washing your hands before lunch is a good idea, and you’ve heard about that from non-biblical sources. But the religious leaders here were talking about ceremonial washing, an elaborate, lengthy procedure involving careful, precise washing and scrubbing clear up to the elbows, using as much water as could be held in one-and-a-half eggshells, “holding to the tradition of the Zakenim,” according to one Jewish source. They also said a ritual prayer as they did so: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us by Thy commandments, and commanded us concerning the washing of hands.”

Main Point: This was a ritual washing, not a sanitary one. The concern was not for germs; it was for following the tradition. In fact, if there was no water available, the devout followers could simply go through the motions “dry” and still be undefiled.

Regarding the diet part of this discussion, Jesus is plainly telling His accusers that ceremonial uncleanness—whether from not washing your hands in the prescribed way or by eating a food that is ceremonially unclean—was not what was going to hurt your soul. “Food doesn’t enter your heart,” He says in Mark 7:19. “Eating with unwashed hands had no moral effect whatever upon a man” says one Bible commentary. Adultery, anger, dishonesty—those were the things that could poison your heart and soul and mind.
 
So What? Is it still a good idea to wash your hands before you eat? Are there foods which can hurt you? The answer to both questions is an obvious yes. In Leviticus 11, there’s a long list of animals that are “unclean” foods. Anything that didn’t “chew the cud and have a split hoof” was forbidden; any sea life that didn’t have fins and scales was also on the non-kosher list. All sorts of varieties of birds were banned. Pork, obviously, was on the “no” list for sure as written up in verse 7. The question is this: were these various kinds of meat unclean just from a ceremonial viewpoint, or did God put them in that category also because they were unhealthy? Clear back in Genesis 7, before there was a nation of Israel or temple ceremonies, and as Noah was preparing to build his ark, God already called some animals clean and others unclean. Were they just ceremonially so, or can eating pork, for example, actually be harmful to a person’s physical well-being?
 
Erasing the Rule: Here in Mark 7:19, Mark adds a parenthetical that Jesus was intending to erase the ceremonial distinction between clean and non-clean: “In saying this, Jesus declared all foods ‘clean,’” say the NIV and RSV. The much looser Message paraphrase: “That took care of dietary quibbling; Jesus was saying that ALL foods are fit to eat.” In the Living Bible: “By saying this He showed that every kind of food is kosher.”

What of Physical Health: But did God, in the Garden of Eden, and then when talking to Noah, and again when giving instructions to Moses and His chosen people, Israel, also have in mind the physical health of those He loves and not just their ceremonial purity? Here in the 21st century, it seems plain that He did.

Health Trend: It’s on the cover of every major news magazine in America now that certain foods are harmful and that a largely vegetarian diet is the ideal one. The recent secular bestseller, Live Ten Healthy Years Longer has the numbers to back it up: if a person lives by the biblical blueprint—even though the ceremonial restrictions are now gone—they’re going to be stronger, healthier, more productive . . . and enjoy up to a full decade of extra living.

The Adventist Advantage: this is why our Adventist family gratefully holds on to the “do” and “don’t” list of Leviticus 11. Not because of the ceremonial aspect of the “clean” vs. “unclean.” But because God knows best and our bodies are still His temple. Because, as Paul himself puts it in I Corinthians 10:31: “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
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Submitted by David B. Smith.
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