Verses 1-9: Jesus is approached by the scribes and Pharisees, who are seeking to find fault in Him. Of course they always fail because Jesus had no fault in Him and in fact their attempts repeatedly backfire when Jesus exposes their hypocrisy.
The scribes and Pharisees think they have found error within Jesus’s disciples because they have observed that the disciples do not wash their hands when they eat bread. This “error” is not based on any scripture derived from heaven but is actually based on a tradition (vs. 2). What sin is there in failing to observe a tradition made by man? This was not a commandment made by God.
Jesus exposes them immediately in verses 3-6 by explaining to them (and us!) how they conveniently avoid giving money to their needful parents. The scribes and Pharisees were giving money to God as they had been commanded, and this was undoubtedly good. However, they were using this expenditure as an excuse to avoid giving money to their parents, who were in need. By saying to their parents, “I can’t give you any money to help you with your needs because I am giving all of my extra money to God,” they were in actuality committing a sin because they were not following the commandment to honor their father and mother. Whether this was a trend among the scribes or the Pharisees or if Jesus saw into the hearts of the specific individuals questioning Him seems undetectable, but the sin is exposed nevertheless.
Jesus then quotes to them from Isaiah 29:13 and publicly declares they have fulfilled this prophecy because their words indicate that they love and worship God, but their hearts prove that they are actually very far from Him.
There are a couple of interesting applications we can take from Jesus’s lesson to the scribes and Pharisees tonight. First, know the importance of the difference between what God has said and what rules we simple humans have fashioned. And under no circumstances are we to place more importance on anything over what God has commanded. To be able to make judgments like these requires knowledge of God’s Word, does it not? And knowledge of God’s Word requires study and more than a surface understanding.
In fact, we should be very careful with how we consider God’s Word. Because our own desires can creep into our reasoning and soon our own logic and reasoning is making decisions in our best interests at the expense of God’s commands. For this, Jesus would expose us, too.
The second application is that the scribes and Pharisees were basically revealing their own lack of obedience and faith through their question. The words revealed the fallacy of their understanding of the import of God’s word and their challenge to Christ showed their lack of belief and trust in the Son of God. Had they not heard of all of the things He taught and the wonders and miracles He worked? And they were asking about the disciples washing their hands before eating? They were being absurd.
Verses 10-20: Lastly for tonight we have Christ’s sublime explanation about how what we say exposes us: “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. 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 15:18-20
It is not necessarily surprising that the disciples require this explanation after Jesus first explains this profound spiritual truth. Because the first time we hear it, it doesn’t seem to immediately quite compute, does it? How can what I say corrupt me?
The main point is that what we say reveals our corruption because it originates from within our corrupt hearts. As we saw with the scribes and Pharisees, this can happen even when we are trying to be righteous. And that is why it is so important to remain steeped in the depth of the God’s Holy Word: we can’t trust ourselves. Satan will find an opening and he will spread corruption through sinful actions, creating shame, disgust and sorrow.
Tonight I urge you to renew your dedication to knowing God through your Bible. Knowing Him is the only way to remain truly righteous!