Jesus’ Life and Ministry
What Defiles a Man?
OPPOSITION to Jesus becomes stronger. Not only do many of his disciples leave but Jews in Judea are seeking to kill him, even as they did when he was in Jerusalem during the Passover of 31 C.E.
It is now the Passover of 32 C.E. Likely, in accordance with God’s requirement to attend, Jesus goes up to the Passover in Jerusalem. However, he does so cautiously because his life is in danger. Afterward he returns to Galilee.
Jesus is perhaps in Capernaum when Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem come to him. They are looking for grounds on which to accuse him of religious lawbreaking. “Why is it your disciples overstep the tradition of the men of former times?” they inquire. “For example, they do not wash their hands when about to eat a meal.” This is not something required by God, yet the Pharisees consider it a serious offense not to perform this traditional ritual, which included washing up to the elbows.
Rather than answering their accusation, Jesus points to their wicked and willful breaking of God’s Law. “Why is it you also overstep the commandment of God because of your tradition?” he wants to know. “For example, God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Let him that reviles father or mother end up in death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother: “Whatever I have by which you might get benefit from me is a gift dedicated to God,” he must not honor his father at all.’”
Indeed, the Pharisees teach that money, property, or anything dedicated as a gift to God belongs to the temple, and it cannot be used for some other purpose. Yet, actually, the dedicated gift is kept by the person who dedicated it. In this way a son, by simply saying that his money or property is “corban”—a gift dedicated to God or to the temple—evades his responsibility to help his aged parents, who may be in desperate straits.
Properly indignant at the Pharisees’ wicked twisting of God’s Law, Jesus says: “You have made the word of God invalid because of your tradition. You hypocrites, Isaiah aptly prophesied about you, when he said, ‘This people honors me with their lips, yet their heart is far removed from me. It is in vain that they keep worshiping me, because they teach commands of men as doctrines.’”
Perhaps the crowd had backed away to allow the Pharisees to question Jesus. Now, when the Pharisees have no answer to Jesus’ strong censure of them, he calls the crowd near. “Listen to me,” he says, “and get the meaning. There is nothing from outside a man that passes into him that can defile him; but the things that issue forth out of a man are the things that defile a man.”
Later, when they enter a house, his disciples ask: “Do you know that the Pharisees stumbled at hearing what you said?”
“Every plant that my heavenly Father did not plant will be uprooted,” Jesus answers. “Let them be. Blind guides is what they are. If, then, a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”
Jesus seems surprised when, in behalf of the disciples, Peter asks for clarification regarding what defiles a man. “Are you also yet without understanding?” Jesus responds. “Are you not aware that everything entering into the mouth passes along into the intestines and is discharged into the sewer? However, the things proceeding out of the mouth come out of the heart, and those things defile a man. For example, out of the heart come wicked reasonings, murders, adulteries, fornications, thieveries, false testimonies, blasphemies. These are the things defiling a man; but to take a meal with unwashed hands does not defile a man.”
Jesus is not here discouraging normal hygiene. He is not arguing that a person need not wash his hands before preparing food or eating a meal. Rather, Jesus is condemning the hypocrisy of religious leaders who deviously try to circumvent God’s righteous laws by insisting on unscriptural traditions. Yes, it is wicked deeds that defile a man, and Jesus shows that these originate in a person’s heart. John 7:1; Deuteronomy 16:16; Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23; Exodus 20:12; 21:17; Isaiah 29:13.
◆ What opposition does Jesus now face?
◆ What accusation do the Pharisees make, but according to Jesus, how do the Pharisees willfully break God’s Law?
◆ What does Jesus reveal are the things that defile a man?