The Pharisees and some legal experts from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus. They saw some of his disciples eating food with unclean hands. (They were eating without first ritually purifying their hands through washing. The Pharisees and all the Jews don’t eat without first washing their hands carefully. This is a way of observing the rules handed down by the elders. Upon returning from the marketplace, they don’t eat without first immersing themselves. They observe many other rules that have been handed down, such as the washing of cups, jugs, pans, and sleeping mats.) So the Pharisees and legal experts asked Jesus, “Why are your disciples not living according to the rules handed down by the elders but instead eat food with ritually unclean hands?”
He replied, “Isaiah really knew what he was talking about when he prophesied about you hypocrites. He wrote,
This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far away from me.
Their worship of me is empty
since they teach instructions that are human words.
You ignore God’s commandment while holding on to rules created by humans and handed down to you.” Jesus continued, “Clearly, you are experts at rejecting God’s commandment in order to establish these rules. Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘The person who speaks against father or mother will certainly be put to death.’ But you say, ‘If you tell your father or mother, “Everything I’m expected to contribute to you is corban (that is, a gift I’m giving to God),” then you are no longer required to care for your father or mother.’ In this way you do away with God’s word in favor of the rules handed down to you, which you pass on to others. And you do a lot of other things just like that.”
Then Jesus called the crowd again and said, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand. Nothing outside of a person can enter and contaminate a person in God’s sight; rather, the things that come out of a person contaminate the person.”
After leaving the crowd, he entered a house where his disciples asked him about that riddle. He said to them, “Don’t you understand either? Don’t you know that nothing from the outside that enters a person has the power to contaminate? That’s because it doesn’t enter into the heart but into the stomach, and it goes out into the sewer.” By saying this, Jesus declared that no food could contaminate a person in God’s sight. “It’s what comes out of a person that contaminates someone in God’s sight,” he said. “It’s from the inside, from the human heart, that evil thoughts come: sexual sins, thefts, murders, adultery, greed, evil actions, deceit, unrestrained immorality, envy, insults, arrogance, and foolishness. All these evil things come from the inside and contaminate a person in God’s sight.”
In the story before us we witness another confrontation between the Empirical Religious System and Jesus. The Religious Elite seem to almost corner him - “gathered around Jesus.” It sounds like they’re trying to gang up on him. And I guess they were. They seem desperate because they are desperate. They know that their way of doing things, of seeing the world, their way of being, is coming to an end. They’re acting like a pack of wolves surrounding their prey.
As I’ve been saying (and seeing) for a while now, The Way of Jesus brought an end to Empirical Religious Systems. We can see this in the fact that the disciples weren’t following the washing rituals of Judaism. If The Way of Jesus was suppose to reinforce that system the disciples would have continued their rituals.
But they didn’t.
The question that comes to mind is, “Where did they get the idea that it wasn’t necessary to wash their hands according to the Law of Moses?” The most obvious answer is that they saw Jesus do it! They were just following his example.
Next we see that all of those “purification rites” didn’t actually address the issue. This is crucial. It helps us see the limitations of our religious systems - they can’t actually change us in and of themselves. At their best, they point away from themselves to G_d. At their worst they trap people into ways of being that Jesus liberated us from.
The real issue of purity, Jesus tells us, comes from the heart. I don’t think Jesus was saying that people aren’t influenced by external forces. I think what he’s talking about is acting on those influences. Those decisions come “from the inside, from the human heart.” It’s those thoughts and actions that we act upon that “contaminates [us] in G_d’s sight.” (Of course, some of us don’t need any external influences. We can act poorly all by ourselves.)
This is the same thing James said, “Everyone is tempted by their own cravings; they are lured away and enticed by them. Once those cravings conceive, they give birth to sin; and when sin grows up, it gives birth to death.”
I think this helps us understand the contamination that Jesus was talking about. We’re contaminated when we’re “lured away” from G_d. From being “lured away” we can see there’s a movement - a direction - with G_d’s work in creation. That is, we’re either moving closer to G_d and being transformed into the image of Christ, or we’re moving away from G_d and continue to live in our falseness. And it’s in that falseness that we are contaminated. We aren’t being our true selves. That falseness is like an addiction that entraps us but it’s not who we really are at the deepest level.
Paul addressed this in his letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome. He wrote,
“[Don’t] let sin rule your body, so that you do what it wants. Don’t offer parts of your body to sin, to be used as weapons to do wrong. Instead, present yourselves to God as people who have been brought back to life from the dead, and offer all the parts of your body to God to be used as weapons to do right. Sin will have no power over you, because you aren’t under Law but under grace.”
Notice that last sentence again, “Sin will have no power over you, because you aren’t under Law but under grace.” That is, we’re no longer entrapped by religious systems. The Way of Jesus, the Realm of G_d, has come and we’ve “been brought back to life from the dead.”
Now, let me be clear. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have personal daily practices. Nor am I saying that we shouldn’t be in community. Just the opposite in fact. I’m saying that we don’t need religious institutions. Religious institutions were “shadow[s] of the good things that [were] coming, not the real things themselves” (Hebrews 10).
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC