”Now when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders.” Mark 7:2-3
Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “cleanliness is next to godliness.” This saying was first recorded in a sermon by the Methodist preacher John Wesley but the theology behind it is far more ancient.
In our focus text we find the Pharisees questioning the piety of Jesus and his disciples because they aren’t washing their hands, prior to eating, according to the traditions of the elders. But here’s the funny part about the requirement, that washing wasn’t because of concern about germs and dirt, it was all about removing defilement that came from contact with gentiles and other unclean people.
In the book of Leviticus, Moses had recorded many instructions God had given him pertaining to the washing of hands, dishes, and clothes. But if you look at the context of these rules you quickly realize that the purpose of the washing is to actually remove physical filth. Scientists hadn’t yet made the discoveries that would lead to the germ theory, but God, who had created everything, knew about bacteria, viruses, paracites and other tiny creatures that are capable of causing great harm to people and he gave commandments to help prevent infections and infestations by them.
But by the time of Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees, about the issue of washing, the practical part of the reason for the command had been lost and it had become spiritualized.
Friends, not everything worth doing has a spiritual reason for doing it.
God is the god of every part of your life: the physical, the mental, the social, the psychological, the spiritual. Over the centuries scientists and others have found very good reasons for many of the commands God has given. I say many, because I don’t think we understand the why yet for all of God’s instructions.
The Pharisees came into conflict with Jesus because they thought they understood the why and their erroneous conclusions led them to incorrect applications.
Far better that we take God’s word as it is and not add to it or take away from it.