As I was thumbing through the Bible this week, I came across a verse that I had forgotten about in Matthew 15. To set the stage, we need to flip back to chapter 14. John the Baptist (Jesus’ dear friend and cousin) had been beheaded at the whim of Herod, and verse 13 tells us that Jesus sought solitude by taking a boat out into the lake by himself. He couldn’t get away, though, because thousands of people were clamoring to meet him on the other shore. After performing a miracle to feed the crowd, Jesus tried again to get some quiet time, so he sent his disciples out on the lake while he hiked the mountain to pray. In the wee morning hours, Jesus walked on water to meet up with his disciples. They freaked out, of course, and then Peter tried to walk out to meet Jesus, started to sink, and Jesus saved him.
After all that, I imagine Jesus was emotionally sapped. Enter chapter 15. Some religious uppity-ups came all the way from Jerusalem to badger Jesus about something apparently heinous that his disciples were doing: they weren’t washing their hands before they ate! *gasp! I can imagine Jesus rolling his eyes at the ridiculousness of it all.
Granted, I tend to be a stickler about hand-washing. The last thing I need is a virus running through my house, so I try to make sure that the kids wash up before they eat. However, is that really the biggest issue that I ought to address? Will having clean hands matter if the food they eat is foul? Or, is having clean hands more important than having a clean heart? That’s where the Pharisees missed the boat. They got so hung up on one minor issue that they ignored the major issues that they were flouting, themselves.
In response, Jesus quoted from Isaiah 29: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules” (Matthew 15: 8-9, NIV). So, by all means, wash up before you eat. Become a germaphobe, if it makes you feel better, but not at the expense of clean living in other areas of your life.