My wife, by her own admission, is a germaphobe. I am not. For example, I find it delightfully liberating to eat food as long as it doesn’t smell or exhibit any gross pathology. I can eat a sandwich while working on a car or bike and not clean-up first. I am blissfully ignorant of my body’s ability to take in germs and remain unaffected. However, deep down I know that cleaner is better than dirtier. How? When asked if I would like to see what a Petri Dish looks like after the kitchen sink has been swabbed first, I decline. Thankfully, my daughters and I will benefit from a cleaner and healthier way of living; thanks babe.
In our text, Jesus doesn’t skip washing his hands at the Pharisee’s house because of hygiene, but because of hypocrisy (vv.37-38). The Pharisees were so meticulous about the observation of the law, that failure to wash one’s hands correctly (see perfectly) rendered the whole process ineffective (Yadaim 2.3). Jesus’ refusal to wash his hands was an in-your-face move that surprised his host and moved the conversation to the heart of the matter (vv.38-39), their hearts.
Their hearts were proud and their law-keeping precise; certainly God would be pleased with their attention to detail, right? He was not. They bowed to the letter of the law, but forgot the heart of it: To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8). Or how about this: If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth (1 John 3:17-18). Jesus’ unwashed hands were preparing to open a can of worms in that home that made the leaders wish they left him back with the crowd.
After metaphorically comparing the Pharisees to filthy cups that are only clean on the outside (v.39), Jesus begins pronouncing woes upon them (vv.42-44); Woe to you, Pharisees, for measuring your tithes to the micron but neglect people. Woe to you, Pharisees, because you seek the attention of men by primping and preening in public and in church; seeking the praises of men. Woe to you, Pharisees, because you are like hidden graves that ceremonially defile any who unknowingly walk over them. People who hear your words and follow your teachings are unknowing spiritually defiled; you are the ruin of many.
When an expert in the law states that the indictments against the Pharisees are also indictments against them, he was correct.
The Pharisees and the Experts in the Law were two different groups of people; the Pharisees were the religious separatists and the Experts in the Law (Scribes) studied, taught, and interpreted the Mosaic Law. The first three woes against the Pharisees dealt with their religious hypocrisy, and the second three woes dealt with the abuse of Torah.
The “experts,” some of which were Pharisees too, are now in Jesus’ sights and receive a three shot salvo against their abuses of the law (vv.46-52). Woe to you, experts of the law, for legislating God’s law so minutely that you’ve made it a burden, unbearable, and impossible to follow. You find greater fault in transgressing your interpretations of the law than in transgressing the law itself. Woe to you, experts of the law, for pretending to honor the prophets of old; you hypocrites! You no more listen to them than you listen to me, the ultimate prophet, whom you will kill too. Woe to you, experts of the law, for taking God’s Word away from the people and making it so hard to understand, that they can’t make it to Heaven; they don’t get in and neither do you.
Sin must be confronted. When it is, you and I will have a choice to make; we can listen and change or become defensive and angry. Guess which one the self-righteous leaders picked? When Jesus went outside, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions, waiting to catch him in something he might say (vv.53-54).
Wrong choice. They believed their dirty hearts were more pleasing to God than Jesus’ dirty hands. One was a temporal condition while the other was eternal.
Let us (believers) be careful that we do not become closet Pharisees. Here it centers around unwashed hands, but in our spheres of influence today it could be any number of things. How I view my own stuff and the stuff of others around me will indicate if the dirt is on the outside or the inside.
Let’s not be burdened, nor burden others with traditions that, though they are sacred to some, are treated as equal to Scripture. Let’s not be angry with God or His Word when challenged, but be transformed by Him/It (Rom 12:2). Let us examine ourselves and see if our traditions are trumping the Scriptures and then move toward the abundant life where the burden is light, just as Jesus promised (John 10:10; Matt 11:28-30).
Dirty hands (here pictured as living in grace and not exacting religious formality) are acceptable; it’s the dirty heart that is not. When God changes and cleans-up the heart, the hands will follow.
Grace and Peace,