Markby Robert M. Solomon
The disciples gathered around Jesus (6:30), but so too did His opponents, the Pharisees and teachers of the law (v. 1). One group gathered to report and learn, while the other did so to find fault.
The Pharisees had many man-made traditions ″of the elders″ (vv. 3, 5), such as ceremonial washing before eating. They asked Jesus why His disciples were eating with (ritually) unwashed, ″defiled″ hands (v. 5). In their criticism, they were indirectly blaming Jesus for not teaching them properly and for not upholding their traditions.
In His reply, Jesus referred to Scripture, where God had declared in Isaiah 29:13 that the Jews worshipped and honoured Him only with their lips but not their hearts, which had grown far away from God- ″their teachings are merely human rules″ (vv. 6-7). Sadly, they only had the right language and not the right life, but God could see through such hypocrisy. Jesus accused His opponents of, ironically, abandoning the commands of God in order to champion their own human traditions (v. 8). He illustrated His point by showing how they had used man-made traditions to excuse themselves from following God's laws. Instead of obeying the fifth commandment to honour their parents (vv. 10-12), which often involved providing financial support, they hid behind the tradition of ″Corban″ (v. 11). Corban referred to ″a gift devoted to God″, which allowed anyone to declare what they owned as dedicated to God. Once they had done so, they were no longer obligated to give it away, even to their parents. Jesus must have been exasperated by the spiritual blindness and hypocrisy of the religious leaders.
Jesus then ″called the crowd to him″ (v. 14) and spoke with divine authority. ″Listen to me, everyone, and understand this″ (v. 14). Three actions were required. To go to Jesus, to listen to Him, and to understand (which included obedience). Against the ritualistic foolishness of the Pharisees, Jesus declared that people were defiled not by what goes in but what comes out (v. 15).
Later His disciples asked Jesus what He meant. Jesus was exasperated and exclaimed, ″Are you so dull?″ (v. 18). He then said that it was not food (that goes through the alimentary canal) that defiled a man but what came out (through one's speech, thoughts, and actions) from a wicked and sinful heart (vv. 18-23). The problem was not ritually unclean hands but actually defiled hearts. As we read in Isaiah, the problem lay more deeply with the heart than with the lips (29:13). The Pharisees were barking up the wrong tree.
Can you think of a modern example of how the traditions of men are given more importance than the commands of God? How can this be reversed?
How can we come near Jesus, listen to Him, and understand? Think of an example of how you experienced this? Why is the heart important in this process?