Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘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.’ You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” Then he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban’ (that is, an offering to God)— then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.”
Okay, let me ask you something. (I know that some of you who know me, went “uh oh” when I said that.) When you heard (or read) this gospel narrative, did you not think the Pharisees were terrible people to be around? I mean, can you imagine being watched constantly by people who seem to be waiting to catch you doing something wrong? You can’t even enjoy a meal, because folks are looking at you to see if you are washing your hands before you eat.
Terrible, ya? Now, you know what’s coming don’t you? Haha. Aren’t we often just like that? Constantly looking at people, judging them for how they dress, how they talk, how they behave. Consider me. You might think that there is very little people can criticize about my dress style, seeing how I wear only white and black, but some folks will pick on the little crucifix I have affixed on my shirt pocket. “Why don’t you have a figure of Jesus attached to it?” they will ask. “Are you protestant?” Huh?
Then I’ll have the occasional person ask why I have this accent that I speak in. Is it real, they will ask? How am I even supposed to answer a question like that? Tell them, “No, it’s fake.” What’s a REAL accent, anyway? I find it daft, and don’t let it bother me, but it is indicative, isn’t it, of how much we judge everything people do. It’s what the Pharisees did constantly, and Jesus would get mad at them, especially because they justified their meddlesomeness on spiritual regulations!
Rules and regulations are needed, in the church as in every institution, or we will have chaos and anarchy. However, when it comes to the church, there is the very real temptation that these traditions are given more importance than the word of God, sometimes even overriding them. This is a truth across all denominations. And the consequence of this is that, sooner or later, more importance is given to outward shows of spirituality that inward purity and holiness.
We should pay heed to what Jesus told the Pharisees. Quoting the prophet Isaiah, 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.’ You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” He wasn’t knocking human tradition. He was simply telling them to examine themselves and see if they lived according to God’s standards or their own. And to do a heart check while at it.
We would do well to examine ourselves too. It’s nice to be pretty from the outside. But it’s more important to be pretty on the inside. And while we are at it, we can quit examining others.