Unclean vs. Clean OR Tradition vs. Truth
1 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; 7in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ 8You 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.” 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.”
We’ve become a culture obsessed with clean hands. Be honest – how many of you carry a little bottle of hand sanitizer with you? I do and I’ve even been known to use it to clean an unsavory table top or two. It’s a dirty world. We’re washing our hands because we know about germs and bacteria. Jesus and the disciples were part of a culture that washed their hands because of ritual. We would not be impressed with this hand-washing exercise in terms of eliminating germs. To wash one’s hands before eating for the Pharisees meant that they got their hands wet from fingertips (or knuckles) to elbows. Just wet; no soap or scrubbing. That dipping of one’s hands into a bowl of water took them from (spiritually) unclean to clean. And the Pharisees were sorely offended by the lack of this practice by Jesus’ disciples.
Jesus never wasted a teachable moment. The Pharisees have handed Him an opportunity to discuss what actually makes a person clean in the sight of God and He elaborates extensively on what makes a person unclean. He soundly casts out the idea that washing your hands could make you clean in the eyes of God. Instead, He reframes the idea, turning it completely around. It’s not what goes in but what comes out that makes us unclean. The Pharisees were leaning heavily on tradition to create purity within their hearts. If you practiced all of the laws that had been established through the traditions of the forefathers, you were good. That man-made idea goes completely out the window with Jesus. He instead focuses upon what is on the inside of a person, not on what they put into their mouth. Now all of us stand before Him in need, for we all know that what comes out of our mouths and off of our hands (our actions) is far more damning that whether or not we washed our hands before dinner.
On this side of the death and resurrection of Jesus we know that cleanness can only come through the blood of His suffering. His disciples didn’t understand that truth at the time this conversation took place, but they would soon learn it, embrace it, and teach it to the world. Last year, Natalie Grant produced a song that shares this concept beautifully. Let it minister to your need for a clean heart before the Lord.