Then the Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they don not wash their hands before they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ But you say that whoever tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is given to God,’ then that person need not honor the father. So for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God. You hypocrites! Isiah prophesied rightly about you when he said:
‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.'”
Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees to offense when they heard what you said?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” The he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enter the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
This story is often a little lost on us, probably because it isn’t as revolutionary as it was 2,000 years ago. It’s not always even clear to us what Jesus is talking about, just because we don’t learn about the ancient Jewish culture. But here’s the gist of it:
The Pharisees and the Scribes loved following rules, because the more rules they followed the more righteous they were (according to their understanding of Old Testament law). They loved rules so much that they made up some of their own, including that one must wash one’s hand before one eats, which is a good rule, but certainly not one that makes you more Godly. Then Jesus came along and pointed out that in their quest to be more righteous they might be following their rules, but forgetting God’s. For example, they were giving so much money to the temple that they couldn’t afford to take care of their aging parents. That’s not what God wants! So then (and this is the scandalous part) Jesus basically told the crowd to completely ignore the Pharisees’ rule, a rule they had been following for centuries, but wasn’t from God.
Jesus also says that since the Pharisees’ rules and teaching don’t come from God, they are blind, and they and everyone they lead will fall into a pit. Which just goes to show, you must make sure your teachings are based in scripture! If someone is teaching you and not using scripture to support their teachings, leave! Immediately! Find a new teacher.
The other very important moral for me from this story is not to try and gain righteousness by following rules. I can’t be truly righteous that way, because I will always forget something. And I certainly shouldn’t hold myself above others because of earthy rules. Just because I don’t eat cookies and candy does NOT make me a better person than someone else. That isn’t in the Bible! And even if it was, I am still a sinner just like everyone else. That can sometimes be hard for me to remember. But it’s so important! Nobody is better than anyone else, except Jesus. Which is exactly what made His sacrifice so special.