There was something in my quiet time this morning that really challenged me.
The passage came from Mark 7 where the Pharisees complain that Jesus’ disciples were eating with “defiled hands”. Simply, the disciples had forgotten to wash their hands before eating food. For the Pharisees, this was a big deal and they wanted to challenge Jesus about it.
I found it a difficult passage to understand.
I couldn’t see why Jesus argued with the Pharisees. To my way of thinking, washing hands is common sense. From an early age, I was trained that you wash your hands after using the bathroom, before eating food, when you have been in the garden or handling pets etc. etc. etc. I can even remember seeing signs in public washrooms that read “Now Wash Your Hands”.
So surely, I am okay. I wash my hands regularly. I know the rules and I keep the rules.
So why does Jesus make this an issue to confront the Pharisees on? Surely, Jesus cannot be against personal hygiene? Isn’t cleanliness next to Godliness (not a Biblical quote but, has been attributed to John Wesley)?
As I reflected on this passage I remembered just how important “purity” was to the Pharisees. They had God’s laws and understood the value that God placed on purity but, they had missed the point of what God was truly saying. They had become so keen on keeping the outward rules (and had created even more rules in order to keep rules about rules) that they had lost the what lay in God’s heart.
In challenging the Pharisees, Jesus was challenging the attitude of their hearts and that is why I felt challenged. I read some words by Henri Nouwen;
God’s house has no dividing walls or closed doors.
The rules the Pharisees put in place were acting as dividing walls and closed doors. They were deciding who was acceptable and who was not.
I may not have quite the same rules as the Pharisees but I still have my unwritten rules, codes and standards. The danger is that I could be building dividing walls or closing doors. Sometimes, we need to take a look at our hearts and ask God to show us where our, unwritten, rules are causing us to build dividing walls.