Mt14 34-15:20 - Being Unclean - Unwashed Hands or Unwashed Mouth
Jesus landed in Gennesaret and the crowds found him and he had mercy on them to heal them. In the midst of all of this he was approached and challenged by the Pharisees and teachers of the law about something the disciples were doing: eating with unwashed hands. Here the miracles of God are happening all around them and all they could see was that Jesus’ followers were eating with unwashed hands. The level of their blindness is astounding, but how does one contend with the works of God except to close ones eyes and divert focus to something petty. Their unwillingness to see what was right in front of them amazes me.
Jesus responded to their challenge with an observation that cut to the core of any long-standing tradition. What I mean is that over the course of the centuries the rabbis and teachers had contemplated and answered various questions about how the Law would be followed in this and that situation, in this case Honoring ones Parents, but over time their explanations invalidated the Laws fundamental values set forth in the Law. Interestingly Jesus didn’t directly answer their challenge but pointed out their own inconsistencies. Quoting Isa 29:13 he believed that they were fulfilling the prophecy that for all their efforts to hold to these traditions they were far from God. I mean, here was God working all around them and all they could think to do was challenge Jesus on a point of their tradition. Jesus went further and told the crowd that it’s not what goes into ones mouth (or how one eats) that pollutes the man but what comes out of his mouth.
When the disciples pointed out how offended the teachers were he said let them be offended, they’re just going to be plucked out of the Kingdom of Heaven anyway. Jesus’ frustration and anger with the rabbis and teachers stood in such stark contrast to his compassion and love for the “people” who came to seek him out. Those who should have known what his ministry represented because they spent so much time “safe guarding” the Word of God seemed to be the most offended and blind to the hand of God in Jesus and what Jesus was doing. Jesus could forgive and have compassion upon any human frailty or failing but standing in the way of the coming of the kingdom of God, and Jesus was very “Old Testament” with his anger and judgment.
Then when Peter asked for an explanation of the parable Jesus showed frustration that Peter (and assuming the other disciples) didn’t get it either. Holiness isn’t dependent on how one eats. Holiness is manifested by one speech (and by extension, ones actions) which reveals what is in ones heart, the nature of that person. Truthfully one could keep ones mouth shut and be of an “unclean” heart, but in the context of communal living, or living in small communities the way most of these people did, the nature of one heart would be plainly seen in the nature of their speech (and behaviour). That was what made one “unclean,” not eating with unwashed hands. In this instance Jesus wanted to elivated their focus from the meaningless miniscule tradtions to the bigger picture of Holiness. JBB 8/21/2004
image: luke5-3, http://www.htmlbible.com/kjv30/B42C005.htm