One of the major Jewish sects in Jesus’ day was the Pharisees. The Pharisees set themselves up as the teachers and authorities on God’s Law. They prided themselves on their outward righteousness and separation from the paganism of the world. They even created their own laws in addition to God’s Laws just to ensure they would not break God’s Law. The problem was that over the years the Pharisees turned these ‘safety’ laws into traditions that became just as authoritative as God’s Laws. In this passage the Pharisees spot Jesus’ disciples not washing properly before they ate bread. Mark comments how the Pharisees washed before they ate and ceremonially washed their cups and pots as well before use.
The Pharisees confront Jesus about this breach of tradition by His disciples. Jesus’ response was with a question as to why do the Pharisees neglect God’s actual Laws while they focus on keeping their traditions and man-made laws. The Pharisees were so consumed with outward washings and cleansing rituals from garments to dishes that they believed this was how to be truly holy and righteous. Jesus rebukes their traditional ideas by saying to the crowd that it is not what goes into a person’s mouth that makes them unclean, rather it was what comes out of their mouth that makes them unclean.
Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees was that they were focused on being righteous by following their traditions of making their outward actions appear Godly. Jesus said this was worthless because their hearts were far from God and His will. Jesus warned His disciples to focus on cleansing the heart first rather than focusing on cleansing their outward actions. The heart is where wickedness originates in a person, leading to wicked actions.
We can become so consumed with ‘appearing’ to be a devout Christian while ignoring what it means to have the ‘heart’ of a Christian. We can convince ourselves we are being faithful because we are ‘doing’ what a Christian is supposed to do. Christianity, especially American Christianity, has a sort of traditionalism about it. To be a devout Christian means to fit a certain profile and follow a set of actions or guidelines every week such as church attendance and tithing. We can make every effort to attend every church service and Bible fellowship during the week. We can read our Bibles and pray in front of our co-workers. We can be present at every outing our church is sponsoring. We can tally and set goals for how many people we will share Christ with this week and tithe as much as 30% of our income. All of these outward actions may make you appear to be a faithful Christian, yet if your heart is not faithful to God then you are no better than the Pharisees.
Today make sure your heart is righteous before God. Is your heart free of unconfessed sin and deceit. Ask God to search your heart and reveal to you what you may have overlooked inside yourself that is displeasing to Him. Have you focused on following what tradition says makes you a faithful Christian versus what God says? Do you do what you do because it is truly Biblical, or because it is expected of you? Focus on having a pure heart of love for God and a desire to do His will and be free of sin. Then the actions you do will truly be righteous actions of a faithful Christian. Are you a faithful Christian because of your heart’s love for Jesus Christ and His saving grace He has given you? Is your heart consumed with loving God more each day? Make sure your heart is pure and every action you do as a Christian is done out of a pure love for God and not done because it makes you ‘appear’ righteous.