“Why do your disciples defy the rules, showing up at meals without washing their hands?” “Why don’t they respect our tradition and the law?” But, we know, their criticism is not just against the disciples. And we know, this Pharisees’ criticism against Jesus and his disciples is not new at all. They have criticized him and his disciples before.
Jesus have had a meal before a tax collector’s house with other tax collectors and sinners and other outcasts. (2:13-15). The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees saw that Jesus was eating with sinners, tax collectors, the poor, the sick, and other outcasts, and asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such people, such sinners, such unclean people?” (2:16). When John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting, some came and asked Jesus, “Why is it that the disciples of John the Baptist and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” (2:18) And, one Sabbath Jesus and his disciples were walking through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pick some heads of grain. So, the Pharisees said to Jesus, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” (2:24). And again, Jesus entered the synagogue, and met a man was there who had a withered hand. But the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure the man on the Sabbath. Jesus looked around at them with anger, and he was grieved at their hardness of heart, and then asking, “What does our Law allow us to do on the Sabbath? To help or to harm? To save someone’s life or to destroy it?” (3:4), he cured the man in front of them. They might think, “why did he do the thing that the law prohibit to do on Sabbath?”
What do they think that make them clean and pure and righteous and holy before God? His saying that “there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile” (7:15) challenged the very foundations on which much of the piety and religious attitude of the Pharisees was based. In fact, the issue is not just washing one’s hands. The question is, “What is purity before God?” The Pharisees believed that any contact with impurity and the unclean defiled them and alienated them from God. Therefore, for them to be pure and righteous before God, they should not eat unclean foods which were prepared improperly, or prepared in unclean cups, pots, and bowls, or prepared by unclean persons. In addition, they should not have contact with unclean persons. They should not go into a Gentile’s home or sinner’s, and should not sit and eat together with them. Touching those who suffered from bodily fluids and discharges and skin disease rendered them unclean. For them the so-called the unclean is not a person whom they love but a person whom they should exclude from their society. They are not their neighbors, but they exist only to serve to make them look holy and pious and special. The tradition of the elders did not serve for them to look at God who love the world and all his creation, and gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life (John 3:16). Instead, their keeping tradition serve them separated from God and also from others. They think, the tradition makes religious and pious person before God. The tradition and teachings of the elders have become a do-not-disturb-sign put on the door saying, “You are not allowed to come and join us. You are not only unclean in body but also in soul and spirit. You are totally unclean person. But we are different.” The tradition just makes them whitewashed tombs where is no life.
“There is nothing that goes into you from the outside which can make you ritually unclean. Rather, it is what comes out of you that makes you unclean.” Jesus says, purity, cleanness, righteousness, is not a matter of ritual purity that they tried to keep. It is not a matter of what they eat or do not eat, whether they wash hands or do not wash before eating the bread.
Then, “What is purity before God?” “What counts as holiness and righteousness before God?”
The prophet Isaiah said, “The Lord says, “Do you think I want all these sacrifices you keep offering to me? . . . Who asked you to bring me all this when you come to worship me? Who asked you to do all this tramping around in my Temple? It is useless to bring you offerings.” And, “When you lift your hands in prayer, I will not look at you. No matter how much you pray, I will not listen, for your hands are covered with blood. . . . Wash yourselves clean. Stop all this evil that I see you doing. Yes, stop doing evil and learn to do right. See that justice is done – help those who are oppressed, give orphans their rights, and defend widow” (Isaiah 1:11-17). What is purity before God? Yes, it is purity in doing, purity in our action.
And, the prophet Amos also said, “The Lord says, “I hate your religious festivals; I cannot stand them! When you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; I will not accept the animals you have fattened to bring me as offerings. Stop your noisy songs; I do not want to listen to your harps.” And, “Instead, let justice flow like a stream, and righteousness like a river that never goes dry” (Amos 5:21-24). Then, what is purity before God? Yes, it is purity in justice.
Through the prophet Hosea, the Lord says, “Israel and Judah, what am I going to do with you? Your love for me disappears as quickly as morning mist; it is like dew, that vanishes early in the day. . . . I want your constant love, not your animal sacrifices. I would rather have my people know me than burn offerings to me” (Hosea 6:4,6). What is purity before God? Yes, it is purity in love.
Israelites asked God, “What shall I bring to the Lord, the God of heaven, when I come to worship him? Shall I bring the best calves to burn as offerings to him? Will the Lord be pleased if I bring him thousands of sheep or endless streams of olive oil? Shall I offer him my first-born child to pay for my sins?” And God’s spokesman prophet Micah answered them, “No, the Lord has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God” (Micah 6:6-8). Then, what is purity before God? What makes people clean before God? Yes, it is purity in justice, love, and humility in hearts, mind, and actions.
“Are you clean and pure before God?” “What sacrifice and worship do you think that God wants from you?”
It is the question that Jesus is asking them and us now? The God whom we call the Lord is steadfast in love and in mercy saying to us “You are stained red with sin, but I will wash you as clean as snow. Although your stains are deep red, you will be as white as wool. If you will only obey me, you will eat the good things the land produces. But if you defy me, you are doomed to die. I, the Lord, have spoken” (Isaiah 1:18-20). Our God is the God who closes his eyes to our sins and wipe out all our sins and wash our evil and make us clean from our sin, and the sacrifice and worship that are acceptable to Him and pleasing Him, is our broken spirit, our pure heart, not a burnt offering (Psalm 51:1-2, 16-17).
And finally, the God chose to come to us because of his pure love and pure mercy for his people. Jesus Christ, his Only Son, himself is the purity of God to make his people clean. In him, by him, and through him, we become clean before God. That is the good news that Jesus Christ has brought to and proclaimed.
“This people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines. You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
To be holy, to be clean and pure, to be righteous before is not just to keep the tradition. To believe is not just to listen to his word. In his letter today James tells us, “Therefore, get rid of every filthy habit and all wicked conduct. Submit to God and accept the word that he plants in your hearts, which is able to save you. Do not deceive yourselves by just listening to his word; instead, put it into practice.” And, “If you listen to the word, but do not put it into practice, you are like people who look in a mirror and see themselves as they are. The take a good look at themselves and then go away and at once forget what they look like” (James 1:19-27). Yes, the Pharisees are looking at themselves through a mirror which reflects the Law and tradition fragmentally and becomes stained and distorted by their minds, thoughts, and concerns. They are not seeing the heart of God, the love of God who came in flesh and revealed through His Son, Jesus Christ. They do not accept that God has come as a humble, pure servant for all and as a doctor for the sinner, the poor, the sick, the outcast, and Gentiles.
Jesus is the heart of God, the pure heart before God, and the humble sprit, and the pure sacrifice and pure worship to God. Through Jesus, the pure heart, God wipes away our sins and washes away our evil, and through the purity the Lord in heart, love, justice, actions, and living. And now, Jesus Christ, the pure heart of God, asks us to be pure in heart, mind, soul, and spirit, and to live a life of purity before God just as he has taught and lived as his pure community on earth.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us pray to God, “Create a pure heart in me, O God, and put a new and right spirit in me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy that comes from your salvation, and make me willing to obey you” (Psalm 51:11-13). Amen.