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Refreshment in Refuge

    by Gina Burgess

Traditions of Disobedience
Date Posted: June 7, 2015

When surgeons wash their hands before surgery, they wash with scrub brushes all the way up to their elbows. They scrub under fingernails. They rinse thoroughly. Then they put on sterile gloves. I’d say that is about as clean as you can get without soaking in alcohol or peroxide.

When the Jews washed their hands before they ate, they would take a showy, silver bowl, set it on the table, hold their hands over the bowl palms down, have water poured over their hands, then pat their hands dry with a towel. Not exactly a cleansing kind of hand washing.

What really got the scribes and Pharisees all in a tizzy was the fact the act of washing one’s hands was an outward admission of guilt of sin. This is why the hand washing ceremony is important during the Seder. The disciples were not publically admitting to their guilt, but dug right into their meals without as much as a pinky being washed.

Let’s take a look at the conversation between Peter and Jesus at the foot washing ceremony (take note, this was not just hand washing, but the feet, too).

Peter said to Him, "You shall never wash my feet!" Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me." Simon Peter said to Him, "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean... John 13:8-10

Why were the disciples not chastised by Jesus for not washing their hands?

One main reason is that there is no commandment in the Old Testament to wash one’s hands before eating. The admission of sin guilt was in the sacrifices God ordained. The Jews had built a tradition of hand washing that did nothing about the sin guilt except remind the people of their guilt—and it wasn’t working, especially with the priests, scribes, and Pharisees.

These great men of the Jewish church were angry that Jesus disciples did not conform to the mandated edits of tradition. They supposed that touching their food with unwashed hands defiled their food, which defiled the man. The “guilt” was transferred to the food and ingested. They thought it was as great a sin as adultery.

When Jesus answers their question, He is deliberate and emphatic.

“You scribes and Pharisees transgress God’s commandments by your tradition!” They thought unwashed hands was a greater sin than adultery, but Jesus pointed out they were committing the greatest sin of disobedience. It is that those who are zealots in commanding conformance to their own impositions of traditions are the most careless of God’s commands. And God said He loved mercy more than sacrifice. One very dark and evil tradition was that of dishonoring their fathers and mothers with korban.

Korban is the act of “giving” one’s possessions to the church before one’s death, but keeping the articles until after one died. These religious leaders had the full use of all their wealth until they died, but denied the use of their wealth to their fathers and mothers because “it all belongs to the church!” When their elderly parents grew to frail to take care of themselves, they turned their backs on them letting them fend for themselves. It was an act of cruelty as well as blatant disregard for the commandment to honor your father and mother.

What was even worse was that these religious leaders were teaching the people that this was a high and good thing to do because nothing could be greater than to give all one’s possessions to the church. Breaking the law is bad, but teaching others to break it is worse. Teachers, preachers, and those who are leaders in the church are undoubtedly held to a higher standard by God because they know better. They have studied God’s word. Teaching to steal, lie, and bear responsibility falsely is worse than doing the deeds.

James points out that teachers are held to a stricter judgment (James 3:11), and Peter tells us that false teachers will meet swift destruction (2 Peter 2:1).

Immediately, Jesus teaches the disciples that it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the heart that defiles him.

For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man." Matthew 15:19-20

I’m thinking that Jesus is teaching that clean hearts are much better than clean hands, especially hands that are grimed by honest labor.

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Biography Information:
Gina Burgess has taught Sunday School and Discipleship Training for almost three decades. (Don't tell her that makes her old.) She earned her Master's in Communication in 2013.

She is the author of several books including: When Christians Hurt Christians, The Crowns of the Believers and others available in online bookstores. She authors several columns, using her God-given talent to shine a light in a dark world. You can browse her blog at Refreshment In Refuge.

If you'd like to take a look at some Christian fiction and Christian non-fiction book reviews before the books hit the book store shelves, check out Gina's book reviews at Upon Reflection

Gina is a partner and COO of Common Sense Marketing Strategies, LLC that owns Authors Community and eBookChristian.com
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