I HAVE told you about the Pharisees. They were learned in the law of Moses, and still more learned in great books of rules made by the old teachers; and they thought that by keeping these rules they were better than other people. You know how they kept the Sabbath by not doing the least kind or useful thing on that day, and they were offended because the Lord healed the sick on the Sabbath day.
The Pharisees made a show of holiness in their dress, their fasting, their prayers, and in giving to the poor, but the Lord said, “All their works they do for to be seen of men.” They were the hypocrites who sounded trumpets when they gave alms, and made long prayers in public places.
Among the rules which the Pharisees kept most strictly there were many about washing their hands and dishes and tables before and after eating. They did not do this to make them clean from dirt, but in case they might have touched something which they said would defile them. On coming from the market they would wash before eating, for fear they might have touched a Gentile, or brushed against his dress. We can hardly believe how many rules they made about washing,—when it should be done, and how much water should be used, how the hands should be held, at first upward so that the water poured on them would run up to the wrists, then downward, so that it would run off at the fingers. The great teachers quarrelled about these trifling rules. Books were written full of them, and the Pharisees claimed that no one could be fit for heaven who did not keep these rules about the washing.
Some of the Pharisees from Jerusalem came to the Lord in Capernaum, and complained that the disciples were not keeping the rules handed down from the old teachers, but ate without washing their hands. How foolish to think that this could make them unfit for heaven! Some of the rules were worse than foolish, for they were made an excuse for breaking the commandments. What does the commandment say that we should do to our father and mother? The Jews knew that it meant that they should obey their parents, and be respectful to them, and do all that they could for them, and support them when they were old. But one of the old traditions said that if parents asked a child for something, he could say, “I give to the Lord the thing you want,” and then he need not give it to his father or mother; and sometimes he would not give it to the Lord either but would keep it for himself. So the rules of the Pharisees were not only foolish, but they led people to do wrong and to break the commandments.
Can anything I have eaten make my soul unclean and unfit for heaven? Neither do evil things which touch us from the world defile us unless we love them and allow them to become a part of us. What do make us unclean are bad feelings and bad thoughts, which we indulge and love, and the bad words and acts to which they lead. We read in the Psalm, “Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart.” Does it mean that we must wash our hands as the Pharisees taught? It means that we should make our actions right and good. Now you will understand what we are going to read together.
Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem. And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders. And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables. Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands? He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written,
This people honoureth me with their lips,
But their heart is far from me.
Howbeit in vain do they worship me,
Teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free. And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother; Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye. And when he had called all the people unto him, he said unto them, Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand: There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear. And when he was entered into the house from the people, his disciples asked him concerning the parable. And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats? And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man. Mark VII. 1-23.
Author: William L. Worcester 1904
Hands >> Actions
Wash the hands >> To act in accordance with Divine Truth, the Lord’s Holy Word
There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him >> Spiritual food is received into the memory; from this we draw up what we wish to make a part of ourselves, and reject the rest
That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man >> It is our evil intentions, thoughts, words and actions which defile our soul
Pictures: James Tissot —-Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum