7 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2 and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 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.) 5 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?” 6 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. 7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ 8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” 9 And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 11 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)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” 14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”
There is such a strong contrast of focus in this passage. Jesus is focused on the heart, whilst the Pharisees are wholly focused on religious practise. Here they are, face to face with the Saviour of the world, yet all they seem to notice is that the disciples fail to wash their hands before eating. In this, it is not the desire for righteousness that Jesus condemns, but the fact that the Pharisees “ignore God’s law and substitute their own tradition”. If they were acting out of zealous passion for God’s law, then maybe there would be some concession for their attitude and behaviour. But they aren’t acting out of passion or love, they are ignoring God’s law and substituting it with their own ideas.
This passage should encourage us to have our focus in the right place. If our eyes are fixed on Jesus with our hearts open, then we are well set up to follow Him and live in wholesome relationship with Him and others. If our eyes stray to religion, to trying to get it right without His grace, then we will inevitably drift off course with hard hearts.
We should also be careful when explaining, defending and living out our faith, that our motivation comes from God’s truth, and not from our own well-formulated ideas. We are allowed to get it wrong, and we will, but this should serve as an opportunity for us to learn from our mistakes, realign our attitudes and soften our hearts before God.
Jesus, help me to stay focused on You. Help me to love You and love Your word. Let me always be found with a soft and humble heart before You and before others. Amen.
Written by Matt Samperi