Jesus and Food – Washing Before Eating

Jesus and Food – Washing Before Eating

Jesus and Food – Washing Before Eating.

“After Jesus finished saying this, a Jewish religious leader, a Pharisee, one of the “separated ones,” asked him to come for a meal at his home. When everyone had been seated at the table, the Pharisee noticed that Jesus hadn’t performed the cleansing ritual before he began eating. He was shocked. Jesus said, ‘You Pharisees are religiously strict to your customs and obsessed with the peripheral issues. You are like one who will wipe clean only the outside of a cup or bowl, leaving the inside filthy. You are foolish to ignore the greed and wickedness within you! Shouldn’t the one who cleans the outside also be concerned with cleaning the inside?” (Luke 11:37-40; TPT).

Jesus proved to be a religious rebel when it came to rabbinic traditions that were considered more important than God’s teaching. The rabbis had added hundreds of traditions since the Jew’s return from Babylonian captivity, thinking that these traditions were needed to safeguard the written Torah. The Pharisees claimed that these added traditions were implied in Scripture, and so they claimed that these traditions had religious authority, going back through the elders to Moses himself. Jesus seemed to say that yes, that may be true to a certain extent, but some of these traditions ended up replacing and even breaking away from God’s commands. Some of these traditions were confusing the people as to what God’s priorities actually are.

One of these religious obligations imposed by the Pharisees was that of the ritual handwashing before meals. The Temple leaders believed that in the course of daily life there would be inevitable contact with that which was ceremonially unclean, such as Gentiles, sinners, unclean food, etc. This tradition had nothing to do with hygiene or proper cleanliness. The thinking was that this “ritual of sanctification” would enable faithful Jews to cleanse themselves from impurity and thus be acceptable to God. This tradition, though, was not even mentioned in the law of Moses, and was not considered by Jesus to be a legitimate burden to put on the people. Jesus rejected this tradition for many reasons:

(1.) Inner Purity. Jesus claimed that one’s purity doesn’t depend on what a person does on the outside. He says the inner heart is the source of evils that defile a person, not the ritual outward cleanliness or the separation from that which is considered unclean. Each person needs to wash their insides to remain pure.

(2.) Humility. Jesus doesn’t like the fact that the Pharisees often do the handwashing in public for all to see, a religious display that makes them look holy. He says that they are fooling themselves if they think they are honoring God in this way. With so many religious leaders, handwashing is merely a matter of glorifying themselves, not God. Jesus rebuked their motivation for this ritual and for their religious pride.

(3.) Kindness. Jesus specified one way to purify one’s inner heart, that same way being a way to determine if one’s heart is pure. Deeds of love. One will reveal if one is pure by their acts of lovingkindness. And, when one lives this way in the love of God and people, these generous deeds will actually work to purify the heart even more. If one is living a life of love, one’s pure heart is revealed, and one’s inner heart will only get purer as they continue in God’s love. When one’s heart is pure this way, things like handwashing will not matter.