Parallel Texts: Matthew 15:1-20; John 7:1ff.
Mark’s account changes it’s focus at this point, as does Matthew’s and Luke’s, for from this point forward up to Jesus’ final arrival in Jerusalem, Jesus focuses on training His disciples. Here, He begins to demonstrate the differences between the Kingdom and the traditional religious teachings of His day. Our first glimpse of this change of focus begins when Jesus and the disciples return from their sojourn to the other side of the Lake.
This is a great story… we could spend a week going over it piece by piece. A group of Pharisees have come up from Jerusalem and in our first glimpse of them they are looking for a fight. They approach Jesus complaining that His disciples are eating before they have gone through the proper hand washing ceremony… of all things. Jesus is having none of that:
He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’
You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
It didn’t take Jesus very long to come to the point; He calls them hypocrites in the first sentence. The point is that they, who are such great law-keepers, just ask them and they’ll tell you, are pushing customs and traditions that aren’t in the Law. First, He quotes Isaiah 29:13 to set up His counter-charge, and then goes right to the point:
And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”
Here He quotes the commandment, and then reminds the nice Pharisees of their tradition. A man could set aside part of his property as a gift to God (Corban) and be relieved of his obligations to his elderly parents… and the Pharisees are perfectly fine with that, which of course defeats the purpose of the commandment. And here they were, trying to use one of these idiotic traditions to condemn His disciples! Well, now… we’re making friends today aren’t we?
Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”
It didn’t make any difference whether His disciples did the traditional hand washing before eating their meal; what good is a ritual? The food would not make them unclean in any way, they would swallow it and nature would take its course. It’s what comes out of a person that makes them unclean, for what comes out of us reveals the condition of our hearts. If a man sees a beautiful woman, the sight of her does not make him a sex-crazed maniac… unless a sex-crazed manic was already inside of him. If a person performs all of the right rituals and ceremonies and goes through all of the perfect motions on Sunday morning… so what? Those will not cause anyone to love God and love their neighbor unless the love of God was already within their hearts.
Oh, sorry, did I make this about us instead of about those dastardly Pharisees?
Dear reader, all too often, we are the Pharisees!
So let’s see, what do we have here? Not only was Jesus some kind of a revolutionary preaching this new kingdom of His, not only was He healing the sick and lame, making the blind see, chasing out demons, forgiving sins and even raising the dead, and not only did He give out free food to His fans, now He was attacking the status quo by which the elites kept everyone in line:
Here’s another report back to Jerusalem that I wish we could read together!
Yep, those Pharisees were looking for a fight, and Jesus didn’t disappoint them.