To Wash or Not to Wash?

Matthew 15 and Mark 7

Well, that was the question the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus: Why don’t your disciples wash their hands before they eat? Good question, most of us would agree it’s a good thing to wash your hands before you eat, and when you return from the marketplace, and several other times of the day. This Jewish delegation (comparable to today’s church leaders) were very curious about Jesus and his followers. They had traveled all the way from Jerusalem to Galilee (approximately 70 miles over rough terrain, most likely walking for 2 or more days) to check out this Jesus. They had heard about his many miracles and teachings, and had probably been around long enough to witness some as well. They were watching him closely to decide what they were going to do with this man. And then they saw a problem they could attack: Jesus’ disciples didn’t wash before they ate. It is interesting that Matthew says “your disciples”, Mark says, “some of your disciples”, but it does not say that Jesus didn’t wash – so it doesn’t appear the Pharisees could personally attack Jesus for his own uncleanliness – but what of his disciples? They asked Jesus, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” (Matthew 15:2 – even with exclamation!)

Jesus quickly flipped the question around – “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? (Matthew 15:3). And then he gave an example of how they enticed people to break God’s law which said to honor their parents. It appears they were encouraging people to give large showy gifts to God even when it meant they no longer had the means to provide for their aging parents. Jesus shows how the Pharisees had majored in the most minor issues (like pointing out someone’s dirty hands) and left the most important things neglected.

I think of my daycare children and all the potty-training and hand-washing I have taught over the years. I can certainly attest that hand-washing is very important. However, supremely more important is that child’s love for God and others. Imagine a child who is a beast all day long. Fighting with the other children, biting, ripping toys out of their playmates’ hands, yelling at authority, and screaming during lunch time prayer. But, they washed their hands very well before coming to the table. When I give a report to the parents at the end of the day how foolish it would be for me to congratulate them on a child who follows well the rules of man and has clean hands to eat.

Likewise, at the end of the day, we will stand before Judge Jesus. Some will expect to be commended. They did a really great job of following the laws of the land or the traditions of the church, they loved their family, excelled in their business and other man-made expectations. They always washed their hands before they ate. They were good people.

But, that is not what will matter. Jesus will be rewarding those who truly love God and love people – not just in their words but in their actions and sacrifices and daily priorities. Did they keep God’s law first, even when society said they should follow man’s law instead? Did they accept God’s son as the only way to salvation, even when the world said there are many different roads to salvation? Did they carry their cross, even when the world mocked and pointed fingers and threw accusations?

Beware of following the wisdom of this world and the traditions of men. It won’t get you where you want to be in the end. Instead, consider carefully God’s way, every time, and walk in it. In what areas of your life would God have you turn your back on the traditions of men and human rules and expectations to instead dive deeper and deeper into His way – love God, love others, accept Jesus, prepare for the Kingdom.

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Matthew 15 and Mark 7

Tomorrow we will read Matthew 16, Mark 8, and Luke 9:18-27 as we continue reading God’s Word.

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