Teaching about cleansing

A common practice of the Jews in Jesus’ time was the ceremonial washing of hands. They believed that those who came in contact with ‘unclean’ people or things had to pour water over their hands to cleanse themselves. This was not a command of the law of Moses but a tradition of the Pharisees (Mark 7:1-5). Jesus argued that such traditions not only caused people to misunderstand the law, but stopped them from doing the more important things that the law required (Mark 7:6-8).


In support of this assertion, Jesus gave an example. The law of Moses taught people to respect and care for their aged parents, but the Jews had added a tradition that enabled them to ignore their parents. They could make a vow that when they died, their money and goods would be given to the temple.

Having promised such things to God, they said they were not free to give them to anyone else, such as needy parents. Yet they themselves continued to enjoy their possessions as long as they lived. Their tradition contradicted the plain teaching of the law (Mark 7:9-13).

The Jews would not eat certain foods, believing that such foods made them unclean. Jesus said that just as eating with unwashed hands did not make a person unclean, neither did eating prohibited foods (Mark 7:14-16). The people really unacceptable with God were those who taught such traditions (Matt 15:12-14).

What makes a person unclean is the evil that comes out of the mouth, not the food that goes into it. The source of all evil is a wicked heart, and this is what must be cleansed if a person is to be acceptable with God. The Pharisees’ traditions of cleansing prevented them from seeing this, even though it was the goal towards which Moses’ laws of cleansing pointed (Mark 7:17-23).

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