Then some 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 bread.”

As was the habit of the Pharisees and other religious leaders, they were once again trying to trap Jesus. They wanted to catch Him breaking the law. They prided themselves on keeping the very letter of the law—they knew it inside and out. Yet, the more religious they became, the further they drifted from the heart of the law and the God who gave it.

It was tradition for priests to wash their hands and feet before going about their priestly duties. Jesus and His disciples had apparently not measured up to the standard of such a tradition. They were breaking bread without have washed before doing so. This might seem an arbitrary accusation, but it is an enlightening one no less. This encounter so aptly depicts the concerns of the Pharisees. They were interested in holding to the letter of the law no matter what. They even added their own interpretations and traditions, making laws of those too. Rules superseded relationship.

We might read this questioning from the Pharisees and roll our eyes. Aside from personal hygiene, who cares if they washed their hands? Yet, we ask these same kinds of questions all the time. Why do you worship with such loud music? Why do you take Communion every week? Why do you only take Communion once a quarter? Why do you recite old prayers in worship? Why does your church only preach topical sermons? The list is endless. We can easily take what is tradition and make it law for others. But if we aren’t careful, we will find ourselves just as the Pharisees did: standing in the presence of God and missing Him altogether in exchange for a religion of our own making.

  • What are some religious traditions to which you might hold too tightly? Why do you think that is?
  • Where do you see your own Pharisaical tendencies? In light of those, how might you need to repent?
  • Take some time to look at your own heart. Ask the Lord to search, know, and reveal it to you. Repent of the ways you have cared more about rules than your relationship with Him.