The Tradition of the Elders
Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
Then he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban’ (that is, an offering to God)— then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.”
Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”
When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. He said to them, “Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
You can’t go too many places without a reminder to wash your hands. I wonder if there were similar “reminders” back at the time of Jesus with the ritual washings that people had to do at the time. Go into any bathroom in a restaurant or a store and you’ll see a sign similar to this – employees (and ahem…everyone else) must wash their hands before leaving the restroom. Now, this absolutely is the simplest and best way to stop the spread of germs – I’m not saying anything against that, but I think of the similarities with our reminders today with what Jesus was dealing with back then. Jesus takes it (as he always does) from just the action to the heart of the matter. For Jesus, the heart of the matter was not the cleanliness of the outside (of the hands, the pots or pans, or the food bought at the market) but the cleanliness of what comes out of a person (not speaking literally I don’t think). What do we say, how do we act, what is our thought life like? Is that clean, is that Godly, is that something that affirms the work that God is doing inside of us? We can look to so many cases where politicians, religious leaders, etc point to something that has to change in society, only to be caught up in the exact thing they are speaking out against. Is what was going on inside matching what was being portrayed on the outside?
There was also a reminder in this for me about physical health – its amazing how I act, think, feel better when I am taking care of myself physically – in what I eat, in sleep patterns, in exercise, in healthy behaviors in life. While those are “outside” things, they are done to make the inside healthy and therefore healthy in how we live and act.
So, continue to wash your hands. Heed those signs. But also take care of what is happening on the inside of you. Clean that part of your life as well so that what comes out is love, grace, mercy, peace, hope.