Dirt Within

Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ he is not to ‘honor his father’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: “ ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’” Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’ ”” (Matthew 15:1–11, NIV84)

Jesus had a knack of ticking off the Pharisees. On this occasion, his disciples were found to be guilty of not washing their hands before they ate. There is no Old Testament law that requires the washing of hands before eating, but there was a rule from the Jewish oral tradition (later codified in the Mishnah) that required a person be ceremonially clean before eating. The belief was that if the hands were dirty and the food became contaminated then the one eating that food would become spiritually unclean. Since there was no actual law about this, but only the oral tradition, the Pharisees are guilty of allowing their tradition to become equal with the Law of Moses. It isn’t hard to see how this is problematic. The conflict with Jesus again stems from the fact that he gives no regard to their pious legalisms, and this really ticks them off.
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