Paul Derengowski, ThM
In Matthew 15:1-20, Jesus is confronted by the religious elite over the subject of hand-washing and tradition.
From the context, the exchange was not only controversial, but one gets the idea that it was a bit heated too.
It was one of several exchanges that Jesus had with the religious leadership during his day, meaning that the biblical Jesus is not like so many modern-day Jesus’, which tend to be soft, pliable, easy-going Jesus’ that only loves everybody and never offends anybody.
Apparently, the scribes (lawyers) and Pharisees witnessed some of Jesus’ followers eating their meals without washing their hands, as religious tradition required that they do.
Jesus, however, rebukes their insistence by asserting that what comes out of a man is what defiles or profanes him.
It is not what goes into the man, by eating with unwashed hands, that defiles him.
“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.”
Jesus, in other words, was concerned with what was within a human being that left him/her defiled before God, whereas the Pharisees were concerned with external appearances.
In fact, later, in another exchange with the Pharisees, Jesus would make that very point by lambasting them with, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Mt. 23:27).
The Pharisees, like many religious people today, were fixated on outward shows of piety without tending to the heart.
“And when you pray,” instructed Jesus, “you are not to be as the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, in order to be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full” (Mt. 6:5).
The hypocrisy of the religious elite then is what plagues so much of Evangelical Christianity today.
Sadly, the same kind of Pharisaical leadership method has repeated itself among a majority of church leaders and the end result has been to teach the precepts of men as the doctrines of God (Mt. 15:9).
What is even more sad, if not tragic, is that the departure from the heart matters that Jesus debated with the Pharisees, has carried over to the rest of life.
Rather than living lives that are in tune with the conviction of the Holy Spirit to identify and keep sin in check, evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander, et al—Mark’s Gospel adds coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, pride and foolishness (Mk. 7:22)—have been outwardly transformed into the adventurous, exciting, and justified.
It is why a vast majority of television “dramas” are centered around murder and sexual infidelity, with the television and radio talk-show worlds being all about lying and slander as entertainment.
All of this refuse has led to failed leadership across the board, whether religious or secular.
The tradition of what seems to good, outwardly, has supplanted the reality of inward human perversion and spiritual blindness.
Such perversion and blindness has been brought on by the sin of human pride and resulted in leaders leading the equally perverse and blind to the pit of self-destruction, which is typically played out in broken homes, criminal behavior, sexual promiscuity, drug use, out of control debt, lying and deceit as the new normal, or just plain suicide.
Society cannot continue with such a “tradition” and expect to survive. Those called to leadership, in whatever role, must have a change of heart.
Sin and its source, human depravity, must be addressed in open and candid preaching and teaching, which must be dealt with in a biblical manner.
Failure to address the issues of the heart, which is influenced by sin’s nature, will only breed more of the insanity that affects so much of what we witness on a daily basis, as society implodes upon itself.