By Brooke Holt
“And Jesus called the people to him and said to them, 'Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.'" Matthew 15:10-11
My children will tell you I can be a bit persnickety. I am the mom who always asked if they had washed their hands, and we may have sung the ABC song a time or two to ensure proper cleansing. I do not like germs or illness of any kind!
The religious leaders of Jesus’ time had a very different concern with cleanliness. They were obsessed with ritual laws. To their credit, God was focused on the Law too. The Law is recorded in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, and then the book of Deuteronomy provides a recap of those laws. A mere 613 laws are given throughout those books. That seems like plenty! However, the Pharisees took it upon themselves to create additional laws to protect God’s laws. Scholars commonly believe the Pharisees added another 1,500 laws in addition to those 613. Who could remember this many laws let alone follow them?
The problem with the Pharisees was not only their addition of so many laws, but also the burden these laws placed on God’s people. Always watching and waiting to catch a trespasser instead of loving the people under their care, the Pharisees constantly judged and oppressed their flock. God had called them to be shepherds to the sheep or ones who understood the frail nature of the people, protected them, and cared for them. Clearly, this was not the case. As they say, “misery loves company!”
Mathew’s Gospel picks up today after these leaders have come to question Jesus: “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat?” (Matthew 15:2) Notice the term tradition of the elders” rather than the Law of God.
Jesus was not like me or them. He was not concerned with the ritualistic washing of the hands. These external rules had not brought the Israelites closer to the Lord. The rules had not changed the people’s hearts. Instead, the rules developed judgmental spirits and hard hearts. Going through the motions of upholding laws and all the purification processes was not about honoring God but honoring oneself. Jesus saw through the charade and exposed these leaders.
While the Pharisees and scribes deeply concerned themselves with the cleanliness of the food entering into the body (thinking whatever went into them was able to corrupt), Jesus focused on what comes out the body – words, attitudes, and actions. These stem from the heart. Jesus was building an inside-out kingdom. Instead of focusing on the externals of keeping the faith, Jesus would call his followers to allow him to address their hearts.
What the religious leaders did not understand is that Jesus, the true King of Israel, had come to bring a new purification. In his death, every infraction of the Law was forgiven. God’s people were free. With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the law once written on stone was now etched on the human heart.
Your actions are indicative of your heart. Check both today. Then, commit to letting Jesus clean the inside of you so that everything that comes out builds his kingdom and edifies his people. We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Let's face it, the Christian life is hard. Relationships take work. Christians forget. Sometimes it is tempting to go back to the days when God was not the center of our lives - to backslide. We are all faced with tremendous pressures to drift away from intimacy with Jesus and the community of the Church. However, the Lord invites us to pay attention, to move forward, to draw near, and to live lives of worship. Draw Near: Hebrews on Christian Worship is a small group Bible study on the Book of Hebrews intended to lead participants into a deeper intimacy with the living God in the context of New Testament worship. Draw nearer to God in authentic worship today!
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