Scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem were on a fault-finding mission when they came looking for Christ Jesus and His disciples. This delegation of officials from Jerusalem revealed so much about their own hearts as they examined the disciples’ hands and not their hearts.
“Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?” they asked. The transgression, according to the scribes and Pharisees, was “they wash not their hands when they eat bread.”
We must understand that what they meant by “tradition of the elders” was not the commandments given to Moses by God, but a group of rules handed down from their forefathers. They believed that God gave Moses two sets of laws on Mount Sinai, one set recorded as the Law in the Old Testament and one set passed orally from Moses to Joshua and then to succeeding generations of Jews.
The tradition of the elders resulted in many trivial rules that became more important to the Jews than Moses and the Law. Washing hands was more about religious ceremony than it was about being sanitary. While the Pharisees observed the ceremonial washing, it seems to have been widely practiced among the Jews. In Mark’s gospel we find this: “For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders.”
The people who abided by the hand-washing rule did it more out of superstition than for the sake of cleanliness. There were rules about the quantity of water they should use, the way in which they washed their hands, and in some places we read they were required to wash up to the wrist and in other places we find they should wash up to the elbow.
His disciples transgressed the traditions of men, but the Pharisees transgressed in their traditions the commandment of God, Christ Jesus said. They disobeyed the commandment to honor their parents.
To honor one’s parents is more than simply being obedient to them. Children, as adults, must honor parents by speaking to them with respect and encouragement. Honoring parents might also mean providing food and clothing.
The Jews excused themselves from honoring their parents by pledging money to the temple. This gave them the self-importance they craved, and an excuse to keep from giving their parents the support they needed.
In this, they “made the commandment of God of none effect,” said Jesus.
He said they were hypocrites, and quoting the prophet Isaiah He said, “The people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoreth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.” Talk was not cheap, it was worthless in this case.
The Jews believed they honored God externally and by their words, but they did not truly worship Him from the heart. Real worship is the adoration of God, not self.
Their worship was in vain because they loved their traditions more than the commandments of God. We must prayerfully guard against this happening to us.
“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5).
The Sunday school lesson is written by Ed Wilcox, pastor of Centerville Baptist Church. He can be reached at [email protected]