If you can believe it, Jesus gets into another squabble with the religious leaders over the actions of his band of misfits. This time his disciples did the unthinkable, they forgot to wash their hands before they ate. Yikes! Call the police. These guys are clearly out of control. We may chuckle at this because we can’t imagine hand washing, or lack of hand washing, would raise eyebrows. But the leaders of Israel saw this as something more, a rebellion against tradition.
Hand washing was a tradition that had been passed down, a tradition meant to help keep God’s people clean before Him. Hand washing kept people from defiling themselves by what passed from their hands, through their mouth, and down to their stomaches. Keeping your hands washed meant keeping sin out, where it belonged.
And instead of rebuking his disciples for not washing their hands, Jesus turns the whole thing on its head and rebukes the hand washers. “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes our of the mouth, this defiles a person.” (Matthew 15:1-11). The hand washers were washing their hands to keep from being defiled, but Jesus tells them to stop worry about their hands, and instead start worry about their hearts.
“For out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, lying, slander,” says Jesus (Matthew 15:18). You see the Pharisees had it backwards. They thought sin was a problem outside them, a problem that could be kept away from them, a problem that could be cured by washing and avoiding sin and sinners. But Jesus stares into their eyes and looks deep into their souls, and exposes their real problem. Their hearts.
So while the pharisees and scribes were worried about the disciples defiling themselves, they were blind to the fact that they themselves were defiled. And their defilement could not be cured by soap and water, but only by the blood of the lamb who was standing in front of them.