Matthewby Mike Raiter
You may be surprised that the scribes and Pharisees make such a fuss here about the disciples not washing their hands before a meal (v. 2). Today, we might make such a demand of little children, but not adults. So why is there such a fuss?
We need to remember that for the Jewish leaders, the issue here was not one of personal hygiene, but the deeper problem of religious or ceremonial purity. They were right to believe that people need to be clean to enter God's presence, but they were gravely mistaken to think the real pollution was on the outside.
Indeed, that is the essential problem with hypocrisy. It focuses on externals and neglects the heart. The religious leaders had invented many extra laws, ostensibly to keep the people pure, but these laws often had the opposite effect; they actually served to make them selfish.
For example, in ″adding″ to the command to honour one's parents, they actually subtracted from it (vv. 4-6). This command enjoins upon children a lifelong obligation to love and care for their parents (Exodus 20:12; 21:17). However, the religious lawyers had invented a tradition called ″devoted to God″ (v. 5). An adult son could now say to his needy parent, ″I would love to help pay for your medical bills, but I have just dedicated all my savings to the Lord's service″ (see Mark 7:11-12). This provided a loophole for Jews to shirk their responsibility towards their needy parents. Jesus regularly exposed this selfishness masquerading as piety.
Jesus then goes to the heart of the issue, and that is the polluted human heart (vv. 10-11). At the core of every human being, a contaminated spring gushes forth, poisoning our personality, relationships, attitudes, desires, and actions. That is the great moral and spiritual pollutant, not unwashed hands or different kinds of food and drink (vv. 16-20). The problem is on the inside, and that is where the solution must be found. We need a new heart.
Jesus not only diagnosed the basic human problem, but also went on to deal with it. On the cross, He cleansed us from our sins and brought lasting purification. Then, by His Spirit, He gave His people a new heart with new motivations, attitudes, and desires (Deuteronomy 30:6; Ezekiel 36:26-27).
So much of human religion deals with externals. Can you think of examples? What makes the Christian faith a ″religion of the heart″?
Can we make excuses for not ″honouring our father and our mother″? What obligations do you think that you have to your parents to love them as God intends?