May 8

Text: Matthew 15:1, 2

Then some Pharisees and scribes *came to Jesus from Jerusalem, saying, "Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread." (NASB)

One challenge of living in another culture is understanding the importance and meaning of customs.  If you think what we do makes sense, consider this.  Why do brides stand on the left of grooms?  Why do we send flowers to funeral homes?  Why do we think forks are clean and hands are dirty when some cultures consider hands clean and forks dirty?  You do things you never question—but cannot explain.

Notice the scribes and Pharisees came “from Jerusalem.”  Jerusalem was the political and religious center of the Jewish people.  In our words, “It was the happening place that was ‘in control.’”  Anybody who was important in Israel had been trained in Jerusalem. 

This Jesus who was highly popular with common Israelites was not trained in Jerusalem.  He maintained no Jerusalem “connections.”  Since Israelite authority came from Jerusalem, Jesus needed watching.

The question the Pharisees and scribes asked was not an insignificant curiosity question.  Jesus and his disciples radically deviated from standard Israelite religious practice.  From where did his authority for such deviation come?   By what right did he deviate from long accepted religious practice?

The “washing of hands” was a religious rite practiced by the “conservative” (see John 2:6).  It was a rite that protected from impurity—a classic “what will this lead to” rite.  The reasoning seems to have gone like this: (1) If your hands accidentally touch something impure, your hands are impure.  (2) If impure hands touch your food, your food becomes impure.  (3) If impure food enters your body, your body is impure.  (4) An impure body insulted God. 

The prevention for this religious catastrophe: purify your hands before eating.  Jesus’ deviation was major!  It challenged the Israelite purification system! Devout people did not eat with unwashed hands!

Suggestion for reflection: Do you go through the motions, or does your faith understand what it does?  (Read Luke 11:37-40.)

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