Jesus did not mince words with the Pharisees, and because He is the Good Shepherd, He made sure that the people heard His every word (7:14).
Clean Hands or a Clean Heart
Traditions of the Pharisees
His first point: traditions should never be exalted above God and His Word. To be clear, Jesus isn’t judging you for cleanliness or carrying that antibacterial gel! He was, however, passionately against the Pharisees’ basing the disciples’ standing in relationship to God upon subjective, man-made standards. They willfully created a holier-than-thou caste system based on a man’s ability (women were already out of the running for holiness by virtue of having a period) to adhere to added-on requirements. Not Jesus. Jesus came for the disabled, the diseased, the children, the Gentile, the tax collector, the prostitute, and the woman—these classes of “others” would never have the means to measure up to the Pharisaic standards.
There are wide implications of this point—keeping traditions in subjection to God—today. Some Christians dress up for Sunday service. Some recite liturgies. Some drink wine. Some read versions of the Bible other than the King James Version. These practices are not essentials of the faith, and we have been given liberty in how we worship. The beauty of this liberty can be felt globally. Our sisters in Sudan are less concerned with the King James Version of the Bible when they read in their mother tongue. Our sisters in Vietnam, Taiwan, Congo, and Costa Rica unite with us in the essentials of the faith and are as much a part of the body of Christ as we. If traditions are keeping more people out than God’s Word, something’s wrong with the traditions.
Beneath the Surface
Jesus’ second point: the heart matters more than the outward appearance. First Samuel 16:7 says, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature . . . For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” In 1 Samuel, the people of Israel desired a king and chose a tall, good-looking man, Saul. They didn’t see that Saul was an agnostic, hot mess. They did not examine his heart because his outside was so pleasing. Now, David was also a steaming mess—but David’s heart was inclined toward God, and he accepted culpability and discipline, and sought forgiveness from his Lord.
Jesus’ words brought freedom to the clean and the unclean! His words meant that proximity to dirt, death, disease—these external circumstances that befall humanity—didn’t make a person unclean. If people must have more means, more privileges than an “unwashed” disciple in order to be righteous, then the standard imposed upon them is not God’s standard, but a human one.
Jesus’ words made the ground between the Pharisee and the leprous person level. The heart’s role in righteousness was elevated above circumstance—and only God cleanses the heart. No practice, no tradition can change a heart, but the Lord can. And He is willing.
Aren’t you relieved that God’s standard doesn’t exclude you, but pulls you in? Will you let Him examine and cleanse your heart?
In what ways are we more concerned with the outward appearance of our behavior than with the real state of our hearts? Why is this mentality so dangerous?
If we are not careful we can become focused on doing what is expected in a vain attempt to impress or please others.
This is not what God wants. He wants us to love Him and His people and in doing so, we will gladly serve. If we become focused on rules and regulations, we take Jesus out of the picture.
Growing up, I remember a high focus on looks, both physically and with how my actions reflected my family. It conditioned me to care a lot about my physical appearance and to care a lot about what people thought of me. Although being attentive how my actions affects those around me helped me socially, it also weighed me down. I’ve grown a lot in this area since becoming a Christian, but I still find myself seeking worldly affirmation at times. I think the danger lies in how it shifts my focus from the Kingdom to worldly concerns; this then makes me less able to live out my God ordained purpose. I recognize my purpose has effects beyond me and that can prevent me from being the light so many need in this dark world.
My prayer is to have God speak His truth into me and remind me His opinion matters above all others.
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