He answered their question with a question. Not to avoid responding to them. But to point out that they, in fact, where asking the wrong question. That, in reality, it was less about His disciples’ scandalous actions and way more about their duplicitous attitudes. They were fixated on the speck in their brothers’ eyes and were clueless as to the log in their own. They thought they were exposing a hand problem among Jesus’ disciples. Instead, Jesus dropped the bomb on a heart problem that existed among them.
Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Matthew 15:1-3 ESV)
They stood before the Son of God and said, why do your followers not obey our traditions? Why don’t they wash their hands before they eat? They had taken the teaching of cleansing after contacting something unclean and “super-sized it” to apply to whenever they would eat. And it really wasn’t about the cleaning of dirty hands as it was intended to be a public demonstration of how clean they already thought themselves to be because of who they were. It was a self-righteous demonstration for the sake of public recognition.
And the Son of God answers their question with a question. He who sees in the secret and knows the thoughts and intents of the inner man, stands before them and asks in return, why do your traditions break my Father’s commandments? To make His point, Jesus gives an example of how the twisted, self-serving religion of the Pharisees could provide for a person to forsake caring for their parents if they were merely to declare, “Sorry, I cant help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you” (15:5 NLT).
“You hypocrites!” Jesus declares (15:7a). God commands, “Honor your father and mother.” And you, through your “traditions,” make provision to dump your father and mother. And then Jesus exposes their heart problem:
“Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'” (Matthew 15:7b-9 ESV)
And I can’t help but pause over Isaiah’s warning . . . and consider the Pharisees’ religious, self-serving practices . . . and think of their disregard for God’s word . . . and do a bit of a personal heart examination. I’m thinking it’s pretty easy, for the sake of feeling good about myself, to overlook the Word of God here, and maybe “modify it slightly” there, in order to justify not obeying it as God intended. That for the sake of my own preferences, I can rationalize my practices even if they don’t line up exactly to God’s precepts. That it’s not impossible for me to say all the right things to indicate I’m in relationship with Jesus but to, in reality, have a heart that is far from abiding in Him and His word.
O’ the thought of vain worship frightens me. The idea that I could fool myself into going with the flow of what men deem as okay and forsake the commandments of God causes me to pause and reflect.
But Jesus has the answer to our heart problems. The blood of Christ has paid the price for any wayward traditions. The cross of Christ beckons those who stray to return . . . those who have elevated tradition to reclaim truth . . . those who have a far away heart to draw near. If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1John 1:9).
He fixes hearts problems.
By His grace . . . for His glory.