Jesus has been in public ministry for a while, His apostles have been chosen, and He is getting a reputation as a wonder worker. The miracle of the feeding of the 5000 has definitely attracted the attention of the ‘higher ups’, and we see some scribes and Pharisees arrive - who have specifically made the journey from Jerusalem to Galilee to find out for themselves what is going on.
Places like Capernaum would not have had the same refined manners as the more wealthy and learned residents of Jerusalem. Fishermen, shepherds and farmers aren’t going to be overly picky about personal cleanliness. Whatever the disciples have been doing (or not doing) about the ceremonial washings that are de rigueur in Jerusalem hasn’t been worthy of comment up until now.
Either these infractions of tradition got up their noses big time, or they didn’t have any better question to ask, so the scribes and Pharisees decided to pick on Jesus by bringing their (the disciples') lack of perfect hygiene up for public discussion.
Boy did they underestimate Jesus!
Jesus took their question, turned it like a mirror back on to the questioners, and then used it to springboard a major teaching to the gathered crowds. A bit like a leg spin bowler serving up a deceptive googly with an expectation of hitting the stumps and the batsman thwacks it for six.
Do not underestimate Jesus.
Do not pick on Him.
Do not pick on His disciples.
It will backfire big time.
How did these ceremonial washings of hands begin? Don’t know. But it could have been a measure introduced to stop the spread of infection within the community in bygone days.
However now it has become a bit of a yardstick to measure who takes God seriously and who doesn’t, and to pressurize people into conformity. Was it something God actually asked the people of Israel to do? No. But these Jerusalemites are enforcing it as though it was of the same importance as the Law and the Prophets.
It is much, much easier to keep your hands clean than your heart clean.
God did require cleanliness and associated preparations for public worship of Him, as is His due. He deserves the best from us, and sloppiness won’t do. But it was also as a physical reminder to ready the mind, heart and soul for worship too.
Jesus calls them hypocrites because they are more concerned with the minutiae of hand cleanliness than with honouring and reverencing God in our hearts, thoughts and feelings.
What is a hypocrite? It was a name used for an actor under an assumed character, or a dissembler, and became a term to describe the disguise (or concealment) of one's real nature, motives, or feelings behind a false appearance.
We have in these visitors from Jerusalem people who are supposed to be 'the best of the best' in putting God first in their lives, and they are more concerned with infractions of ceremonial handwashing than with the worship offered in mind, heart, and will to God.
Jesus tells us (and the big crowd that has gathered around Him) the truth:
nothing from the outside can make us unclean or defiled,
only acting on the evil thoughts and malicious desires of our hearts makes us truly unclean and truly defiled.
Jesus then goes on to make us aware of just how much He fully understands human iniquity and our capacity for evil.
(verse 21) For from within the hearts of men
come/ discharge/proceed/project (ekporeuontai)
evil/ bad/worthless/depraved/injurious (kakoi)
thoughts/ discussion/consideration/debate (dialogismoi).
sexual immorality (porneiai)- feminine plural
theft (klopai)- feminine plural
murder (phonoi) slaughter, killing- masculine plural
adultery (moicheiai) - feminine plural
The plural is very interesting here, because it includes collectively planned evil, evil with the support and encouragement and teamwork of others.
But there’s more….
(verse 22) greed, (pleonexiai) covetousness, avarice, aggression, desire for advantage – feminine plural
wickedness, (ponēriai) iniquities, depravity, malice; plural plots, sins- feminine plural.
deceit, (dolos) guile, treachery, tricks, wiles- masculine singular
debauchery, (aselgeia) licentiousness- feminine singular.
envy, (ophthalmos) the eye; the mind's eye, by implication, vision; figuratively, envy – masculine singular.
slander, (blasphēmia) abusive or scurrilous language, blasphemy, vilification- feminine singular.
arrogance, (hyperēphania) pride, disdain, haughtiness- feminine singular.
foolishness, (aphrosynē) want of sense, impiety, wickedness, egotism; recklessness- feminine singular.
Even if we might debate how poorly the ancients considered the morality of women relative to the morality of men; this list doesn’t let anyone off the hook, male or female, alone or in groups.
It is also a stark reminder that some forms of depravity take an element of organisation and teamwork, and that we can be culpable not only as individuals but as parts of groups.
Ouch! Gulp! Oh Ohh!
Yes, the Lord Jesus is giving us an opportunity today to look deep into our hearts, and to acknowledge the depths of wickedness that linger there, to accept our own culpability,
and to ask and beg for His mercy.
For only He can truly make us clean on the inside.
May each one of us accept that loving challenge from Him. Amen.
You might like to pray this adaptation of a well-loved prayer in response:
Lord Jesus, I come before You, just as I am,
I am sorry for my sins,
the sins I am aware of, the sins I may have forgotten,
the sins I do not yet comprehend the full gravity of;
the sins I have committed through human weakness,
the evils that I don’t yet understand as evils,
squashed my conscience about,
and yet have done them anyway.
I repent of my sins, please forgive me.
In Your Name, I forgive all others for what they have done against me.
I renounce Satan, the evil spirits and all their works.
I give You my entire self, Lord Jesus, now and forever.
I invite You into my life, Lord Jesus.
I accept You as my Lord, God and Saviour.
Heal me, change me, strengthen me in body, soul, and spirit.
Come Lord Jesus, cover me with Your Precious Blood,
and fill me with Your Holy Spirit.
I love You Lord Jesus. I praise You Jesus. I thank You Jesus.
I thank You for the enormity of Your mercy towards me.
I shall follow You every day of my life. Amen.
Mary, my Mother, Queen of Peace,
and all the Angels and Saints,
please help me to ratify this prayer with my whole life. Amen.