Help from an unexpected place — Matthew 15:1–9

The concern of Jesus — part 1

40 blogs of Lent — day 12

The story so far:

Herod is out to kill Jesus, Jesus has tried escaping out of Herod’s province of Galilee, and then to a quiet part of Galilee, but wherever he goes he gets recognised. Then he get’s crowds. Hiding is impossible, sooner or later Herod will find him. Then help comes from an unexpected place.

Washing hands
Used under a Creative Commons licence

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honour your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honour his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

“‘This people honours me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

Matthew 15:1-9

After a year of being told how to wash our hands properly during a pandemic, and then having to use moisturiser the counter the effects of over-washing this passage looks familiar. “Why do you people break the tradition of the NHS? For you do not wash their hands for 20 seconds or more when you go out or come in.”

The Pharisees and scribes were not the same ones, local Pharisees, that complained that the disciples picked wheat ears on the Sabbath were breaking ritual law, these were from Jerusalem. They had come to trip Jesus up, make him look like a heretic. But like the local Pharisees before them they were making the same mistake. Food handling regulations were not things to do because the Law said so, hand washing regulations are not there because the law said so. Like out Covid hand washing rules they are there to protect us and other people. Jesus turns it back on the Pharisees, pointing out that they use God’s laws in order to not help other people, even members of their own family. The verse quoted, Isaiah 29:13, has the same effect as the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke’s Gospel, it shows the religious observance of the religious leaders to be hollow if it is not accompanied by compassion for the poor, the sick and widows and orphans.People come before dogma every time.

But whilst the Jerusalem Pharisees and scribes were trying to trip Jesus up they were unwittingly helping him. Jesus is in danger from Herod who wants him gone. Herod’s wife is planning to get Rome to up Herod’stitle from tetrarch to king, according to the historian Josephus, so Herod needs to avoid anything negative about hom getting to Rome. The province of Judea is under a Roman procurator so Herod must stay on the good side of the Procurator. The presence of religious leaders from Judea investigating Jesus makes him safe, Herod can’t touch him. For now.


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