The Teaching of the Ancestors
1Some Pharisees and several teachers of the Law of Moses from Jerusalem came and gathered around Jesus. 2They noticed that some of his disciples ate without first washing their hands.
3The Pharisees and many others obey the teachings of their ancestors. They always wash their hands in the proper way before eating. 4None of them will eat anything they buy in the market until it is washed. They also follow a lot of other teachings, such as washing cups, pitchers, and bowls.
5The Pharisees and teachers asked Jesus, “Why don't your disciples obey what our ancestors taught us to do? Why do they eat without washing their hands?”
6 Jesus replied:
You are nothing but show-offs! The prophet Isaiah was right when he wrote that God had said,
“All of you praise me
with your words,
but you never really
think about me.
7It is useless for you
to worship me,
when you teach rules
made up by humans.”
8You disobey God's commands in order to obey what humans have taught. 9You are good at rejecting God's commands so that you can follow your own teachings! 10 Didn't Moses command you to respect your father and mother? Didn't he tell you to put to death all who curse their parents? 11But you let people get by without helping their parents when they should. You let them say that what they own has been offered to God. 12You won't let those people help their parents. 13And you ignore God's commands in order to follow your own teaching. You do a lot of other things just as bad.
When people don’t know the Word of God well, they fill the pages with foolishness that sounds biblical. Perhaps you’ve heard some of these before: God helps those who help themselves. God wants me to be healthy and prosperous. Don’t eat food with hands that haven’t been ceremonially cleaned.
The Pharisees were citing oral law here. Tradition taught that filthy hands were an open door for evil spirits to enter the body. The gravity of this sin was comparable to soliciting a prostitute and punishable by excommunication or even death. This and other oral laws formed a set of regulations and traditions not found in the laws of Moses, or Torah. The Pharisees valued their traditions even more than the Torah. Many years later the oral law was printed in a book known as the Talmud. There we find this belief: “The words of the scribes are lovely beyond the words of the law: for the words of the law are weighty and light, but the words of the scribes are all weighty.”1
Jesus counters the Pharisees’ accusation by pointing out that while they have been keeping their own regulations they have failed to pay attention to God’s Word, which says that cursing your parents is punishable by death (Leviticus 20:9). He then goes after the Pharisees’ root problem: they don’t elevate the Word of God above all other wisdom.
We have the same core problem today. We put science, philosophy or self-help advice on the same level as God’s Word, taking an enlightened, both/and approach to our faith. But such syncretism inevitably leads to a conflict between man’s wisdom and God’s truth. What happens then?
Have you set God’s Word as your ultimate plumb line? Do you know the Word so well that you can distinguish human words from God’s Word?
1 Taken from Clarke’s Commentary, Hierus. Berac. fol. 3.
Living Word, I am but a breath, but your Word stands forever. Help me to so immerse myself in your Word that I won’t be attracted to human wisdom that fades with time. Then the Word will be living and active in my life. Through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.