Matt. 15:1-9-The Pharisees and scribes had expanded on the law that God had given and added their own interpretations and practices. These were not a part of God’s law…but they enforced them as if they were. These practices included washing of their hands at prescribed times, etc. This is what they refer to here as the “tradition of the elders”. Jesus tells them that they are the ones who transgress the law…not just their law, but God’s law. He gives an example. God’s law commands that children honor their parents. However, they had prescribed a law of their own that allowed them to get around God’s law. According to God’s law, they were to take care of their parents in times of financial need (perhaps when they are elderly). But, their law allowed them to not be bound to do this if they had dedicated their money to God. This sounds like a very righteous thing to do. But in reality, the money that they had dedicated to God was still available to them be used for their own purposes since they saw themselves as being in service to God. Jesus calls them “hypocrites” and says that they say that they honor God, but in their hearts they are not doing so...they are only doing it for themselves. They elevate their own teachings above God’s.
Matt. 15:10-11-Jesus tells a one-line parable (:11) and then explains it (:15-20). The Pharisees believed that what made a man righteous was the external obedience to their laws (“what enters into the mouth”)…what they eat, washing of the hands before eating, etc. Jesus says that this is not what makes a man righteous…instead, it is the content and intent of his heart (“what proceeds out of the mouth”). For a man to be righteous there must be more than just mere external conformity…there must be an internal transformation. The former is the work of man, the latter is the work of God. The Pharisees had it exactly backwards…from the outside, in, instead of from the inside, out. To the Pharisee, he could cause the inner transformation to take place, himself…by being obedient to the law. In order to assure this, they went to the extreme, adding additional laws (the traditions of the elders) to ensure that they went beyond what was expected in order to fulfill God’s law. On the other hand, God’s law was not ever intended to make a man righteous through his own obedience; but, to serve as a guide to reveal his failure, that he was a sinner and was not righteous. The only way that a man could ever be righteous is through the work of God in his heart…that would then be evidenced by obedience in his life.
To the average person, it was a love-hate relationship with the Pharisees. Because the Pharisees were the ruling religious group among the Jews, because the average Jew had been taught his entire life that the Pharisees epitomized what it meant to be a righteous Jew, and because the Pharisees had the power to punish the average Jew for not holding to their teachings…the Jew on the street held to a kind of respect that bordered on fear. And yet, because they didn’t know any different…this same respect had an element of admiration, because they thought that the Pharisees were truly living as God commanded in His law. When Jesus called the Pharisees “hypocrites” His disciples were concerned that they had been “offended”. Perhaps the disciples were a little bit offended…because to them, the Pharisees were the religious leaders. Jesus quickly corrects them and tells them that God did not put them into their position as the religious leaders of the Jews (:12). He tells the disciples to not follow them (:14)…that they are like blind men telling other blind men where to walk.
Prayer: Lord, You know me better than I know myself. Please help me to surrender my will, my desires, my plans, my ego, my emotions...all that I am, to You. So that You will have complete freedom to guide and direct my life. Make me into the man You desire and use me for Your glory...no matter what the cost.