ONE is amazed at the Pharisees and scribes who could look over all the mighty works and teachings of our Lord and fasten upon such a petty matter as the fact that His disciples did not wash their hands according to traditional regulations (Matt. 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23). Yet we still have with us those who value set customs above the inner realities, to whom sacrifice is more important than mercy. Our Lord described both classes with His quotation from Isaiah 29:13: “This people draweth nigh unto Me with their mouth, and honoreth Me with their lips; but their heart is far from Me.”
Jesus recognized a clean heart above clean hands. He reproved them for their “corban” custom by which they dedicated gifts to God and therefore escaped giving them to the needy. It was well to vow gifts to God, but it had degenerated into a clever excuse for not helping the ones in need—a pretext for evading responsibility.
It is not what goeth into a man but what proceeds from him—his thoughts and acts, which reveal his heart, these defile him. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. Therefore, “keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.”
Such teaching offended the Pharisees, but Jesus said, “Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.” It reminds us of the Old Testament statement: “Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone” (Hos. 4:17). Our Lord made no effort to rescue these Pharisees; He regarded them as hopelessly set against Him. They had committed the sin against the Holy Ghost.
Well does formal and religious America need to ponder our Lord’s position as to outward ritual and inward reality. Throughout the Word, God cries against it: through Isaiah (1:11-17), Hosea (6:6), Amos (5:21-24). Jesus followed the prophets with their own words, hurling them against an entrenched religiousness that could become excited over a slight disregard for precedent but could not see the truth of the Son of God.
Today, sticklers for the niceties of tradition still strain out the gnat and swallow the camel, are careful to observe seasons and ordinances and minute church restrictions; but their heart is far from God. Jesus, however, would break a precedent and smash a tradition anytime to get at a needy life. Sabbath regulations were less important than a withered hand.
There are even Christians who have bordered on medieval asceticism by denying themselves wholesome and normal enjoyment and regulating each detail with meticulous care until they have fallen into the error of the Colossians, “Touch not, taste note, handle not.” One is not more holy by being less human. It is the state of the heart that matters most, for evil comes from within. It does no good to cleanse the hands with water if the heart has not been cleansed by the blood.