Today’s reading: Matthew 15-17.
“Was Jesus ignoring the Mosaic Law when he said unwashed hands didn’t make a man ‘unclean’?
First, a bit of review. The Old Testament laws were designed to allow an unholy people to come into the presence of the Holy God. The holy was separated from the common, and the common could be further divided into things that were clean and unclean. Unclean things or people could be purified, and made clean, but they had to be sanctified in order to become holy rather than common. Only the priests went through the consecration to become holy and serve in God’s house.
Cleanness is the normal condition of most things and persons. Sanctification can elevate the clean into the holy, while pollution degrades the clean into the unclean. The unclean and the holy are two states which must never come in contact with each other (pp. 19-20). Gordon Wenham, The Book of Leviticus
If you drew a picture, it would look like this:
HOLY <—-> Clean <—-> Unclean
God’s aim was to create the conditions where the unholy Hebrews would be able to sanctify themselves and come directly into his presence in the tabernacle. He was also teaching them about his holiness, and testing whether they would obey him.
Now, a thousand years and more later, the traditions of the Jewish leaders had added hundreds of human regulations to God’s law. Hand washing was one of those human additions. The Pharisees condemned Jesus for ignoring the hand washing regulation, but he turned around and condemned their rules which kept them from honoring God’s law. The Law had been designed to lead them to God. Instead, their traditions had become their God. Jesus used the episode to teach his disciples about true cleanliness.
“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’ ” Matthew 15:17-20
True cleanliness is internal, not external. It is a matter of the heart and not the hands.
Uncleanness comes from sin (in thought or deed) rather than the inanimate world. Things are neither good or bad; it’s how we use them, or think about them, that determines their holiness or commonness.
Focus on the external is usually a sign that someone has neglected the internal. This is the hallmark of legalism.
Image by LeManiPulite.it on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0