“‘Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!’ Jesus replied, ‘And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?’”Matthew 15:2-3
In prison, catching a virus is easy, but getting effective medication is not. Since the best protection is prevention, anytime I return to my cell—and frequently throughout each day—I wash my hands with soap and water. I imagine many of you do the same.
But concern for germs was not the cause of controversy in Matthew 15; it was the failure of Jesus’ followers to perform a complicated ritual. God commanded something like this of the temple priests (Exodus 30:17-21) to symbolize pure deeds. Tradition had expanded it, however, adding elaborate requirements that obligated all Jews entering a Jewish home to wash their hands and feet with precision.
This ceremony was a tiny part of an enormous burden on Israel. Their leaders had piled so many rules and regulations on them that resting had become impossible. Worse still, all the soap in the world can’t remove sin’s ugly stain (Jeremiah
2:22 and 17:1). Only God’s grace—and lots of it!—can make sinners like me and you fit to enter the Lord’s heavenly home.
“There is a fountain filled with blood/ Drawn from Immanuel’s veins,/ And sinners plunged beneath that flood/ Lose all their guilty stains.” (William Cowper, 1776)