You Catching This? (Matthew 15:1-2)

Photo by CoWomen on Unsplash

In our culture, it is considered appropriate to wash your hands prior to eating. Everyone knows that you pick up a multitude of microbes everytime you touch an unclean surface, and that those microbes can and will be subsequently transferred to your food (or anything else you touch) if your hands are not cleaned. Hand washing before eating was also the tradition of the Pharisees in Jesus’ time. 

But Jesus didn’t always practice that. Matthew notes that “Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”” 

While handwashing was a tradition (according to those who came to meet Jesus), it was not Scriptural. The Scripture only spoke about hand washing in regard to uncleanness in Leviticus 15. In that case, the hand washing was prescribed for someone who was unclean through bodily discharge, and who spread their uncleanness via touching others prior to washing. Of course, Jesus knew that, because He knew the Scripture forward and backwards. So He would be able to quickly discern that this wasn’t really an argument about what was clean and what was unclean. This – along with the fact that the people accusing Him were from Jerusalem – meant that this was a much larger argument. 

As one commentator noted, “For some time, Jesus had attracted a following from regions far and near, including Jerusalem. But this was the first time Matthew specifically recorded a confrontation between Jesus and any of the religious leaders from Jerusalem—the spiritual capital of Israel and the authoritative center of Judaism. It is possible that some of the religious leaders in previous encounters had been from Jerusalem, but this was the first time Matthew made specific mention of them and where they were from. Many of Jesus’ previous conflicts had probably been with local synagogue leaders in the various cities he had visited. His notoriety and the Pharisees’ frustration with him had grown to the point that Jesus’ opponents were now calling in the “big guns.”

Those “big guns” had chosen to begin their confrontation with Jesus on a very small issue. Perhaps they wanted to demonstrate that Jesus was off in the small things regarding the law, so should not be trusted with the bigger things of the law either. But while your average Rabbi might fall into such a trap, Jesus is not your average Rabbi.  Jesus not only knows the Scripture, He knows how to listen to the Father, and regularly spent time in dialogue with Him via prayer. Recall His own witness of this in John 12, “I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.” 

Jesus’ practice of knowing the Word and speaking to the Father meant that He would not fall into a trap of debating minor traditions when God’s glory is at stake. 

Knowing the Word and a habit of prayer are key to keeping our life purpose on track too! 

[The Lord] is telling us that if we want to be taught and led by God, we must get into the habit of looking to him regularly.

James Montgomery Boice

APPLICATION: Intentionality

Only you, your journal and the Lord truly know where your primary “go-to resource” actually is when find yourself in a pinch.