The nit picking Pharisees are back. Today they must have really been struggling to come up with something to fault Jesus on. They want to know why Jesus’ disciples didn’t wash their hands before they ate. Is that all they could find to complain about today? Ok, they were probably talking about the ceremonial washing, which was a big deal to them. Let’s peek in on the discussion.
Matthew doesn’t give us a setting for this encounter, but from the comments of the Pharisees there must have been some dining going on. Jesus and His disciples were having dinner in a place that the Pharisees could observe them. I was originally thinking they might be dining with some Pharisees, but if they were you would expect the disciples to be on their best behavior and to follow all the rules of the house. So I am going to put them at the home of some new believer in the community. I am going to name him Joshua and assume that he has invited anyone and everyone he could to this dinner.
People are reclining at tables spread throughout the house. So many have come to help celebrate the healing Joshua’s daughter received at Jesus’ hands that there is little room to move about. The servants are doing their best to attend to the needs of everyone present. Jesus has instructed His disciples to disperse throughout the crowd so they could answer questions about His ministry if any arose in this setting. Jesus finds Himself seated with Joshua, his wife and two of the city’s elders. They are enjoying each other’s company and the delicious meal.
Being that the servants weren’t able to easily reach all the diners, some of them did not receive the bowl and towel being passed for the pre meal washing of their hands. These groups were mostly composed of the men judged to be of lower stature in the community; the common men. A few of Jesus’ disciples were included in these groups. There was no sense waiting forever for the ceremonial washing bowl since the food was on the table and getting cold. So they began eating the fresh bread, fine fruits, nuts, and expertly prepared fish. This was one of the finest meals Jesus and His disciples had been served in some time. Everyone always offered their best when entertaining Jesus, but this home boasted of finer foods than usual. Peter couldn’t wait to sink his teeth into the bowl of dates sitting in the middle of the table.
At one table near the center of the room was a group of Pharisees that had come down from Jerusalem for the sole purpose of keeping a close eye on Jesus and His disciples. They were watching everything and everyone like circling buzzards. This group was prominent enough to receive the full attention from the servers. Of course THEY performed the ceremonial washing. They were not the least bit impressed by the surroundings or the food. They had far better foods and service at their tables any day of the week. One look at their faces and you could tell they were the surliest group of men you would ever meet. Not a drop of the love of the God they were supposed to be serving was evident in their treatment of the servants or other diners nearby.
Peter and his group are receiving unwavering observation from one of the Pharisees. He sees immediately that this group has begun eating without receiving the washing bowl and towel. Now we have him! Another Pharisee group member has been observing Bartholomew and his table where the same offense has been observed. That’s two of them. “I’ve seen enough”, their leader says. “It’s time to confront this egregious behavior.”
The Pharisees stand up as a group and make their way to where Jesus is sitting. Jesus sees them moving towards Him, as well as hears the protests of the other diners as the Pharisees roughly push through the crowed room and shove several servants aside. He can tell by the look on their faces that they are bringing their kind of trouble, again. I’m certain Jesus knew what was on their hearts too. Jesus calmly remains seated and continues eating His meal.
The lead Pharisee stands across the table from Jesus, crosses his arms, puffs out his chest and clears his throat to get Jesus’ attention. Jesus looks up at him with a neutral expression and says, “Can I help you?”
“You most certainly can! I want to know why YOUR disciples don’t wash their hands before they eat. They are breaking the traditions of the elders.”
Jesus shakes His head a little, then rises to His feet to face these accusers. “You want to talk about breaking traditions when you break God’s commandments? And you do this simply for the sake of your traditions.”
“We would NEVER break one of God’s commandments!”
“Really? How about God commandment to honor your father and mother. Breaking this commandment carries a sentence of death.”
“I already told You that we don’t break the commandments. We honor our father and mothers, just as the law requires.”
“Part of honoring your mother and father is caring for them in their old age or time of need. But you tell your parents that any money that would normally be put aside for them or given to them to assist them in their old age, you have ‘given to God.’ You justify this by labeling it a tradition of the elders. This is outright disrespect and absolutely contrary to God’s commandment.”
“I… I…”, the lead Pharisee stands there with his eyes bulging and his face turning red. He has no answer to Jesus’ words. He cannot deny it, for many here know of this tradition.
Jesus, shakes His head again, and then makes eye contact with each member of the Pharisee group as He says, “Isaiah did well to call you hypocrites! You say you honor God and follow His teachings, yet your heart is so far from Him that everything you do is worthless. And you teach others to do the same by teaching YOUR commandments and traditions as if they were from God.”
Every eye in the room has been riveted to this exchange. They have watched the Pharisees again be bested when trying to tear Jesus down. Jesus now addresses the room when He says, “I want everyone to pay attention to this.” Jesus looks directly at the Pharisees and says, “I want you to hear and understand what I am saying. It is not what one puts in his mouth that defiles him, but it is what comes out of the mouth that truly defiles him.” At this point He is looking the head Pharisee straight in the eyes.
The head Pharisee has been silent but his eyes are shooting daggers at Jesus. The head Pharisee motions with his head for the group to withdraw. They are no gentler leaving than they were when first approaching Jesus. They are also mumbling and talking amongst themselves. They are furious with Jesus for making them lose face in front of that whole crowd.
Jesus sits back down to continue His meal. Joshua is a little subdued after the spectacle with the Pharisees. Joshua quickly apologizes to Jesus for allowing such rude behavior to take place in his home. Jesus reassures Joshua that all is well and He is very pleased with Joshua’s hospitality. Diners resume eating around the room. Conversation naturally now includes discussing Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees. Peter and Bartholomew both look over at Jesus, realizing their actions were what gave the Pharisees ammunition once again to attack Jesus. Jesus smiles at each and waves away their concern with His hand.
Lord Jesus, it is kind of fun watching You put the Pharisees in their place. I’m so sorry You had them constantly trying to find ANYTHING with which to accuse You or Your disciples. I know it was an important part of Your plan to use their jealousy as the main avenue of Your death. Did You ever want to smack them though? Of all the stupid, insignificant excuses to confront You! Because of HAND WASHING! They were really grasping at straws.
Don’t let me get mired down in the minutia of life and how best to do a bible study or some other activity I have been taught I should be engaging in as a good Christian. Help me always be looking to Your instructions on how to conduct my life instead of man’s.