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 honour 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, “Honour 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.’
Reflection Our grandma would never as much as raise an eyebrow if we came in from her farm covered in muck. If anyone looked shocked, she would retort: “It doesn’t matter. They’ll eat a peck of dirt in their lives.” Only then would she send us off for a scrub. Equally, she drilled into us the importance of washing our hands before meals and taking our turn at cleaning the utensils. In that, she would be in sympathy with the Pharisaic laws.
Where the Pharisees went wrong was in conflating practical rules for everyday life with God’s laws to the point where they had become an immutable tenet of their religious practice.
Jesus was having none of it. Compared with the hundreds of rules so important to the Pharisees, he asked his followers to love God with all their being and their neighbours as themselves – and from those two, everything else that matters flows.
Personally, I love the way he explained his differences with his critics in earthy language – what goes into our stomachs must come out again. It is what is in our hearts (souls) that counts, he adds, and if that leads us into bad ways, we are dirty, regardless of outward appearances.
When we say our confessions, surely none of us would express shame for eating a sandwich with unwashed hands! What we ask forgiveness for is wrongdoing in our treatment of others or failure to offer help when we could – the sins of commission and omission. We may not be thieves or murderers, but it is easy to wound with harsh words or to let down someone who trusts us. We are human and we stray. Our cleansing will come from owning up to our sins, asking forgiveness and making reparation.
Prayer Loving God, We confess that there are times when we put the appearance of faith before the substance. We fail to recognise and place the needs of others first. Pray forgive us and help us to discern and act upon the teachings of Jesus. Amen