Visual Commentary and Resources
The Pharisees and Scribes are upset because Jesus’ disciples don’t practice the ceremonial washing of their hands before they eat. This ritual washing was not specifically stated in the Law of Moses, but it had become a tradition of the Pharisees that was as binding to them as the Law itself. Jesus uses this opportunity to lambast the Pharisees for their hypocritcal distortion of the Law.
How should we think about laws and traditions today?
I had the privilege to be a Teacher’s Assistant at Luther Seminary in the class Law and Gospel co-taught by Dr. Patrick Keifert and Dr. Rolf Jacobson. Here are the visual notes I took in that class that provide a Lutheran lens on how the Law and the Gospel work together.
The traditions of the elders were indented to create an “in” group and an “out” group. This boundary is what Jesus was intending to eliminate.
It is obvious that Jesus did not want to limit his teaching on this topic to the Pharisees that attacked him. He quickly turns to the ever-present crowd and disrupts their worldview even further. Who knows if they understood him.
His disciples obviously did not. Thus, the next passage…
Jesus takes his befuddled disciples into private, once again, to explain his teaching. He makes two key moves. First, the key to this passage is the phrase “thus, he declared all foods clean.” This is a radical teaching that we see pushes further with the Apostle Peter in Acts 10.
The second move shifts the focus of uncleanness from externals to internals. It is not the outward things, like food or disease or ethnicity that makes someone clean. It is the heart. An evil heart spews forth evil.
Is Jesus condemning all people in this passage because all people have evil in their heart? I don’t think so. It makes more sense to see that Jesus is showing that the supposedly righteous religious leaders are not righteous because they follow external rituals. They can look good on the outside, but be rotten on the inside. Jesus is simply leveling the playing field.
The world Jesus invites us to see has no quarantines, no holding cells, no decontamination chambers. So he eats with sinners and tax collectors, touches lepers, handles dead bodies, preaches to pig farmers, and, in the text that follows this one, has a deep conversation with a pagan woman.
Nothing can keep Jesus away from them, or from the Pharisees who clearly drive him a little bit crazy, or from the disciples who persist in incomprehension, or—hear this—from us. – Dr. Angela Dienhart Hancock
No one is better than another because they belong to a particular classification of human.
We are ALL a mixed bag of the beautiful image of God AND the brokenness of human evil.
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