Leviticus 15:1-33; Mark 7:1-8; Psalms 40:14-17; Proverbs 13:15-16
NT: “The Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him. They observed that some of his disciples were eating bread with unclean — that is, unwashed — hands. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, keeping the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they have washed. And there are many other customs they have received and keep, like the washing of cups, pitchers, kettles, and dining couches.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders, instead of eating bread with ceremonially unclean hands?” He answered them, “Isaiah prophesied correctly about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. They worship me in vain, teaching as doctrines human commands. Abandoning the command of God, you hold on to human tradition.”” (Mark 7:1-8 CSB)
The Pharisees had a tradition of ceremoniously washing their hands before eating bread, and ceremoniously washing what they ate with and ate on. We all know that washing hands and utensils isn’t wrong, and is actually encouraged. That was not the issue. What began as a well-intentioned practice morphed over the years into a burdensome requirement that eclipsed the actual law. The Pharisees were no longer judging righteously by the law, but were judging people’s righteousness or unrighteousness by whether they washed their hands or not. This wasn’t just a conversation about washing hands. This was a conversation about what true defilement was. The tradition of washing hands become a means of denigrating non-Jews, of ostracizing those who weren’t “clean.” The Pharisees were all about keeping appearances and believed as long as they kept themselves outwardly clean, they were free from defilement. Jesus, in response to their accusations, quoted Isaiah 29:13 and taught that true defilement comes from within, not by touching something that is dirty. True defilement comes when your heart is far away from the Lord. No matter how righteous you look or how righteous your words are, if your heart is far from the Lord, you are defiled. The Pharisees had allowed their tradition to prevent them from fully obeying the word, will, and ways of the Lord; and drive a wedge between their heart and the heart of God. Are there traditions or practices that I do that prevent me from representing Christ to those around me… that prevent me from fully sharing the Gospel with those who need to hear it… that keep me “clean” and removed from the outside world? Were those practices and boundaries given by God, or did I impose them on myself? Do I think people are unclean if they don’t follow my practices and traditions?