The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)
So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”
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.’[Isaiah 29:13]
You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
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,’[Exodus 20:12; Deut. 5:16] and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’[Exodus 21:17; Lev. 20:9] 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.”
Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”
After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)
He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
How do we evaluate (judge) people?
- the Pharisees and teachers of the law evaluated people (sounds much better than judge – even though that’s what they are doing) based on their religious traditions, and therefor their preconceived ideas, not on Scripture.
- ritual cleanliness was important. They even had a prayer to be said during the ritual washing: “Blessed be Thou, O Lord, King of the universe, who sanctified us by the laws and commanded us to wash the hands.”
- the oral tradition or teachings, The Mishna, records, “It is a greater offense to teach anything contrary to the voice of the Rabbis than to contradict Scripture itself.“
- justice – Jesus quotes Isaiah 29:13 as a reminder that simply saying you love or worship or obey God is meaningless.
- when we hold to traditions (old or new) and place that higher than the commands of God, we become legalists and no longer walk in the joy and life of Jesus.
clean & unclean
- we are defiled from the inside out rather than from the outside in. In a similar way, real change takes place from the inside out not from the outside in.
- God is far more concerned with what comes out of us than what goes into us. Although, of course, this does not mean that we ignore the external influences on our lives.
- The list of external sins in v21-22 is not a complete list. William Barclay reminds that that “Every outward act of sin is preceded by an inward act of choice; therefore Jesus begins with the evil thought from which the evil action comes.”
The people of God are not set apart by particular traditions or ethnicity, or anything else, but by a purity that emanates from the heart, manifested by love for others. We may not need more religion, but more reflection on what proceeds from our heart. Traditions can be good, and point others to God. Or, they can communicate explicitly or implicitly, “you don’t belong.”
- How can we evaluate our traditions in light of God’s word?
“Rowing” in Ann Sexton, “An Awful Rowing Toward God“
I am rowing, I am rowing,
though the wind pushes me back
and I know that that island will not be perfect,
it will have the flaws of life,
the absurdities of the dinner table,
but there will be a door
and I will open it
and I will get rid of the rat inside of me,
the gnawing pestilential rat.
God will take it with his two hands
and embrace it.