Matthew 15:1-9

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat.”

He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ But you say that whoever tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is given to God,’ then that person need not honor the father. So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God. You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’” Matthew 15:1-9

Let’s start with the delicious irony that the religious leaders attack Jesus because they have noticed that his disciples aren’t studiously observing the rules of ritual washing before they eat. Obviously they have been watching the disciples like hawks. Watching to catch them breaking even the slightest of rules. Just waiting to say GOTCHA!

Can you imagine what it would be like for a police officer to take it upon himself to follow your car all day, ever ready to write a ticket for even the slightest infraction? Following you from home to work to the errands you might run during the day? Rolling through a stop sign. Failing to use your blinkers to change lanes. Riding 1 mph above the speed limit? I doubt there is a driver in America – and certainly NONE in Houston – who could make it to 2:00 PM without enough tickets to require a lawyer.

But the point of traffic laws is not writing tickets. The point of traffic laws is to allow traffic to flow safely. The rules of the road are meant to help drivers safely cooperate with one another so that everyone gets where they need to go. And yes, the point of tickets is to punish those drivers who break those laws. But the whole system depends, not on the ability of police officers to write tickets but on the willingness of the drivers to follow the rules.

Now suppose you were a government official with the power to tell police officers what to do. And suppose you wanted to intimidate someone into doing what you wanted them to do so you planted a police officer in front of their house. Someone who would follow you all day long, writing tickets for every minor infraction they saw, just to mess with you. That is exactly what the Pharisees were doing with Jesus. They were abusing their positions and their power.

But they were messing with the wrong guy. Jesus wasn’t going to be intimidated and he wasn’t going to back down. He got right in their faces. He pointed out how they twisted the rules to benefit themselves. How they ignored the deeper godly purpose of the law so they could serve themselves even as they held their noses in the air and publicly displayed their religiosity. The very definition of hypocrisy!

Self-serving, self-dealing leaders are charlatans. Loopholes are just legalized cheating. Just because you can doesn’t mean you ought to. You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you can never fool Jesus who sees your heart with utter clarity.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, you know how prone we are to selfishness and self-centeredness. You know how quick we are to cherry pick which rules we follow and which ones we ignore. Forgive us our hypocrisy. Set us free to do the next right thing, which always turns out to be the loving thing, and the just thing. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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One Response to “Matthew 15:1-9”

  1. Dave Armstrong Says:

    You nailed me. Today, I will try to drive 1 MPH under the speed limit.

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