The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. . . So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”
He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules’ . . . You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!” Mark 7:1-2, 5-7, 9
I’m the “Pharisee” in our family. I feel like you have to go by the rules. For example, when I bike, I always wear a helmet and stop at the stop signs.
When Ken and I bike around Auburn, there’s this one place where you are not supposed to make a left turn, but instead make a long detour. That might be fine if you’re in a car, but it’s a drag when you’re riding a bike. I’ve seen bicyclists make the left turn anyway. But I’m so legalistic, I have to stop, and walk my bike across the intersection to make sure I’m not disobeying the sign.
What were the real Pharisees like? They were the party of Jews who ministered to the common people. Their thing was keeping a set of oral laws in addition to keeping the written laws. They believed that Moses gave oral laws that told people how to apply the written law. These oral laws were handed down from generation to generation, and were just as binding as the laws of the Old Testament.
And one of the oral laws was that you had to wash your hands in a prescribed way before you ate. According to my research, if you were going to eat the ceremonial offering, you were supposed to wash your hands all the way up to your elbow. If you ate with an individual, you would wash your fingers.
This went much further than the written law, which only listed one short verse about the washing of hands: “Anyone the man with a discharge touches without rinsing his hands with water must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening.“ (Lev. 15:11)
But it does seem like a good idea. Modern science tells us that it is certainly hygienic. And the Pharisees were trying to be zealous. They were trying to ensure that everyone would be sure to be obedient to the scriptures. You would think God would like people to expend all this effort to try and please him.
Instead, Jesus let us know that God was highly displeased. Something had gone way wrong. His people had gotten to the point where their focus was on following on their traditions instead of following the commands of God.
Isn’t this what can happen with all of us, that our focus gets off of God and onto man?
We think we are serving God in a better way, but our gaze subtly changes to our own efforts and plans.
Ultimately, we can get so wrapped up in seeking to DO things for God that we don’t seek to KNOW God.
Last weekend I hosted my daughter and a young woman who was one of her best friends while she was growing up.
It was a wonderful visit. We shared a lot of memories, and it reminded me of the highs and lows of raising children.
You know, I thought I could do all of the right things and my kids would make the right choices. I came up with all of these plans and implemented them.
But in their teen years, things still went south.
I confess, I was angry and discouraged. I had tried so hard to do the right things. Why didn’t that work?
But then I felt like the Spirit taught me that God didn’t want me to rely on my plans, even though they included many good things. If I did, I would think that success was due to following the plans. God wanted me to, instead, completely rely on him, and know that success would only come from that.
God wanted me to seek to KNOW him. And that is what I started doing. I stopped thinking that I knew what I should be doing, and instead, like a desperate beggar, prayed, each day, that he would give me the wisdom and insight to know what I should do that day. I lived by the verse, “Your grace is sufficient.”
And every day his grace was sufficient. He supplied what I needed to raise my teens. (By the way, my kids are awesome!) I’m still learning to apply this today.
What is a Pharisee? Let me tell you about something scatterbrained I did last week. I vacuumed the whole house, and I was so intent on watching where the vacuum needed to go that I didn’t notice that the canister was missing. I hadn’t replaced it after I emptied it. I vacuumed everything, but all the dust went right back into the air!
That’s what being a Pharisee is like. We get so intent on doing things for God that we forget the component that makes it all work.
That component is understanding God. It’s learning, day by day, to have his heart.
We’re trying so hard! Let’s make sure our efforts are taking us closer to God, and not further away.
This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD. Jer 9:23-24