The Pharisees and scribes had rebuked Jesus and His disciples for not following the traditions of the rabbis in their special hand-washing procedures before eating. Jesus denied that there was an obligation to follow such traditions -- and then showed that some of their traditions even contradicted the plain commandments of God. For instance, they had a tradition of dedicating a certain portion of their wealth to the temple, and then ignoring their obligation to provide for their aged parents. Jesus said such tradition clearly violated God's revealed law.
We are reminded of certain religious traditions today that likewise set aside the clear commands of God. 1 Timothy 3:2-4 says that a bishop must be married and have children, yet some modern day religious groups insist that a bishop must not be married. In Matthew 23:9, Jesus commanded His disciples, "Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven," yet some churches traditionally call their religious leaders by this forbidden title.
As Jesus returned to the hand-washing question, He declared, "There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man." (Mark 7:15). Later, when His disciples asked for further explanation, He said, "Whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated... What comes out of a man defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man." (verses 18-23).
Jesus is simply saying that their humanly devised ceremonial washings were not spiritually necessary. There would be no spiritual defilement because someone did not honor such traditions. We do not become spiritually defiled by the things we eat, or by the dirt that may be on our bodies. Spiritual defilement begins in the heart. Not the blood pump, but the heart as the seat of emotions, desire, will and intellect. When a man harbors evil thoughts, schemes and plans in his heart, he is involved in that which will defile him spiritually.
James elaborates on this theme in James 1:14-15, "Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death." Solomon wrote "As he thinks in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7).
We are not defiled by rejecting human traditions, but by violating the revelation of God.
By Clarence Johnson-- via Susquehanna Sentinel, October 19, 2003
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