Summary: Jesus told us that outward behaviour wasn't the only thing but it is still an important thing
Things were beginning to escalate. Up to this point Jesus had been criticized locally for some of his teaching but now they were bringing out the big guns. The news of Jesus and his preaching was spreading throughout Palestine; remember last week I mentioned that the news had reached Herod in his palace and Herod thought Jesus was John the Baptist coming back from the dead.
And apparently the religious leaders in Jerusalem had gotten wind of the one some were calling the Messiah. And remember there was no television, no radio no internet. Social networking 2000 years ago simply meant that people were talking to one another. And the news of Jesus and his preaching had made its way to Jerusalem the spiritual capital of the region. And there was a lot to tell.
At one point before John was executed he sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah and Jesus gave them this response. Matthew 11:4-5 Jesus replied, "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” Well apparently they weren’t the only ones spreading the news because word had gotten back to the religious leaders in Jerusalem and now they had come to find out what all the excitement was for themselves. This could have a major impact on who they were and what they believed. For hundreds of years there had been talk of a Messiah, it was the hope of the Jewish religion and now there was talk that this carpenter’s son from Nazareth was the one.
Now when they found him I’m not sure if they felt disappointed or vindicated, because the one that people were touting as “The next big thing” wasn’t exactly what they were expecting. To start with they arrived at meal time and instead of being able to observe whether or not Jesus and his disciples followed all of the prescribed rituals for hand washing they didn’t wash their hands at all.
Now we have to understand this was not a health issue or a hygiene issue, the hand washing that is spoken of here is completely ceremonial and it was not rooted in Old Testament law but in tradition. Since the time of Moses the Jews had taken their direction from the Ten Commandments and the Pentateuch, which were the first five books of our Old Testament. But bit by bit the religious leaders began defining what those laws meant and adding to them.
The entire hand washing thing was a part of that. The principle was that you shouldn’t touch anything deemed unclean. And there was value in that. But the principle was added to and modified, the thought was that you might have touched someone who was unclean without knowing about it or accidently touched something that you shouldn’t have. And so an entire process was set up to take care of that. So you would hold your hands up and a small amount of water would be poured over them and allowed to run down to your wrists. Then you would take the fist of one hand and rub the palm of the other hand and then do the other hand. The problem now was that your clean hands had touched the water that had touched your dirty hands, so now you would hold your hands downward and another small amount of water would be poured over them and allowed to drip off. Those in the know tell us that this wasn’t just to be done before every meal but between every course of every meal. You gotta think that had to get old after a while.
But apparently some of Jesus disciples didn’t follow the tradition in exactly the prescribed manner. Mark 7:2 They noticed that some of his disciples failed to follow the Jewish ritual of hand washing before eating. A couple of things worth noting here. It wasn’t all of the disciples it was just some of them and it doesn’t say they didn’t wash their hands, wouldn’t want you to think they were complete slobs, it just says they didn’t follow the ritual. And the religious leaders were all over this like white on rice demanding to know why Jesus’ disciples weren’t following tradition. Sometimes you gotta figure that we aren’t hearing all the story or if we are we aren’t hearing the tone the words were spoken in.
Their question could have been one of mere curiosity. Mark 7:5 So the Pharisees and teachers of religious law asked him, “Why don’t your disciples follow our age-old tradition? They eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony.” They might have simply been inquiring trying to understand better.