We join Jesus today while He and His disciples are having dinner. During the meal a group of Pharisees and scribes approach Him. They are aghast at His disciples’ behavior and are going to make sure He knows about it.
The Pharisees are going to confront Jesus on the lines of the oral traditions or the traditions of the elders. According to TempleInstitute.org the traditions of the elders was originally a set of oral rules said to have been handed down to Moses during his time on Mt. Sini , while BibleHistory.com states that they were first seen in practice during Israel’s captivity by Babylon. They were supposed to be like a buffer surrounding the Torah so, if observed, the user would be assured they would not be in danger of breaking one of God’s written laws. These oral traditions were finally written down in 200 A.D. and were called the Mishnah.
The tradition of washing before eating was the case in point with the Pharisees on this meeting. It wasn’t that Jesus’ disciples were eating with dirty filthy hands but that they hadn’t performed the “ceremonial washing” required before eating, especially eating bread. I was investigating this on Google and found several YouTube videos that demonstrated the process of the ceremonial washing for me.
The washing had nothing to do with cleanliness, as we think of it in our society, but “purity” of spirit instead. The Pharisees were telling Jesus that His disciples were not observing this purity or cleanliness of spirit because they did not perform the ritual washing.
Another point to bring out about this meeting between Jesus and the Pharisees is the Pharisee’s belief in the oral traditions. One of the main differences in the Sadducees and the Pharisees was the oral tradition, or the traditions of the elders. The Sadducees held that the written law contained in the Torah was from God, but that the traditions were not. The Pharisees held both the traditions and the Torah in equal esteem and believed they were both directly from God. Sad part about that though is what Jesus pointed out during this encounter; the traditions were sometimes in direct conflict with God’s commandments. In such cases, the Pharisees simply followed the traditions instead and made God’s commandments of lesser value or re interpreted them to fit their needs.
This is why Jesus called them hypocrites. This group claimed to honor God in all they did. Even their ceremonial washing was supposed to help them become more holy and closer to God, but it had the opposite effect. It made them self-righteous instead. Every act of man to make himself righteous in God’s eyes falls short and the traditions of the elders were certainly no exception. Following every one of them to the letter never saved anyone. I don’t even believe it was possible to fulfill every letter of them. There traditions were a “set of rules and principles of the Torah which could be applied to every eventuality and situation that could arise in the course of time” (TempleInstitute.org/oral_traditions). There were an ENORMOUS amount of these traditions.
Jesus never tried to fulfill these traditions. He fulfilled the Law that God gave to Moses. Jesus even pointed out to the Pharisees where their traditions butted up against God’s Law. God specifically said through the prophet Isaiah that the traditions were NOT doctrines from Him but are “the commandments of men” (verse 7).
Jesus puts an exclamation point on His rejection of the Pharisees’ traditions by pointing out one particular tradition that directly goes against God’s commandments. Not simply one of the finer points in the law but one of the Ten Commandments itself. Jesus specifically cited the practice of diverting money, that should have been used to care for one’s parents in their later years or in their time of need, to the temple instead and saying it was dedicated to God instead. The Pharisees used this practice to get out of fulfilling God’s command to honor their parents, as in helping them in their time of need. This was detestable to God and certainly didn’t buy them any “holiness points” with Him.
Father God, thank You for not requiring us to follow all the traditions of the elders. Thank You that Jesus fulfilled Your Law too and we are not bound to follow every portion of it. Yes, Your commandments are still valid and profitable. Jesus didn’t do away with them but summed them up in our relationship with You and our fellow man. Love the Lord You God with all your heart, soul, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. These I am to live by. Not because it is some law I have to follow but because I value our relationship and these attitudes strengthen that relationship, not tear it down. Help me Lord to live these principals out in my daily life. EVERY day. Forgive me when I’m not loving. I know I’m in that boat too often. I need to work on dying to self a LOT more and not becoming irritated when MY plans are interrupted. I think that is my biggest fault line when it comes to being loving towards others. This includes when my plans were for sleep and I have to be awake instead for one reason or another. I am not nice during those times. Please forgive me! Help me be the kind of servant to others that You created me to be.