- Jesus criticizes the formally religious Pharisees because they hid behind the traditions of men while they disobeyed the commandment of God. They challenged Jesus’ with the fact that His disciples ate bread with unwashed hands, but they were cheating and dishonoring their own parents. If God’s law is made void by its proponents who care more for human tradition than actually keeping God’s commandments, then there goes much of the religion of the world. This revelation doesn’t cramp the style of the popular religions of the West. From followers of Oprah spirituality to those who listen to the Dali Lama, the uselessness of external religion is no loss (for what I mean by Oprah spirituality, see this). After all, it’s what’s on the inside that counts, right? What fun it is to beat up on “the doctrines and commandments of men”! But what about our actual responsibilities before the law of God?
- Jesus’ point that we are not made unclean by what comes in from the outside is good news to our ears too – we can do, see eat, etc. whatever we want. If we are not defiled by outside things, anything goes. But is this what Jesus means?
- Far from justifying “what’s on the inside,” the Lord’s exposure of the source of human defilement leaves us with no place to hide. It is from the inside that all the evil comes – murder, sexual immorality, false witness, slander and other vices. Far from leaving people with the impression that they are basically good, Jesus pinpoints the real source of our trouble – our own wicked hearts.
- Imagine the shock that Jesus’ line of reasoning would have had on a typical Jewish listener.First, this miracle worker from Nazareth (it really is amazing what he does!) charges the established religious authorities (the most righteous people in our land!) with being evil hypocrites – he even gives an example! Inconceivable!
- Then Jesus says that the external food rules that have helped to define the Jewish people for centuries are really not that important. Food will not make a person clean or unclean. What radical new teaching! If hand washing and food laws are not what sets us apart as clean or unclean, what are we left with?
- To top it off, He says that it is what comes from inside is the source of defilement. If anyone sins, it is because he is unclean from the inside out. Who, then, has any hope of being righteous before God?
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. Ezekiel 36:25-27