Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
7 in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” – Mark 7:1-13
I don’t like being judged…at least if I’m being judged and condemned in the judgment. You probably don’t either. A group within our photo club, do want to be judged; possibly more harshly than I would wish. They have expressed a desire for some more robust feedback on the photos that are being offered at our club competitions. They don’t feel that an overabundance of generalities and niceties is really very helpful for those who wish to advance their photographic skills and artistic endeavors. Thankfully, they do not want to condemn anyone, but they do wish for a more robust conversation that will bring constructive criticism to bear on club members who enter photos in the competitions.
The Pharisees had no desire for constructive criticism. Neither is there any danger on their part of providing Jesus with an overabundance of generalities and niceties! They want to discredit Jesus. They want to demean his disciples. They had no good will toward Jesus and his followers. They were threatened by Jesus, afraid of the implications of his teachings (a different way of saying they were threatened), or just plain opposed to God and his ways.
In any case they found a reason to criticize and discredit in their eyes because the disciples did not follow the strict ceremonial washing rubric they championed. They were uber-religious afterall. They did all they could do to show how righteous they were. They did all they could to upstage others in their superior brand of religion. And because Jesus was gaining a following and upstaging them, they pounced on this hand washing faux pas.
We’re not talking about disease prevention here. We’re talking about keeping up appearances. We’re talking about outward obedience. But you can hate your neighbor in your heart and still smile at him when you leave for work on Monday morning. You can harbor resentment against your husband while you make him pancakes at breakfast.
Jesus never wants to pit the two against one another. He desires truth in the inward being, and kindness in outward behavior. He wants humility of spirit and love in action.
So when the Pharisees try to take Jesus to task about his disciples lax approach to their unclean practices, he turns the tables on them. He points out that they’ve got it all wrong. They’ve substituted the rules of man for the Law of God. Never a good idea. He tells them that they had nullified the word of God which they so valued. I wonder if he would ever need to say that to me? Or you? Or your best friend?