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What If? The Blog

Cleanliness Is Next To Godliness

Ashley Buehler


Today's Text - Matthew 15 - 16:12

When I was growing up, my grandmother would notice when my sister, brother, and I would try to skip washing our hands before dinner.  I can remember barreling inside the house from playing with my cousins. I would run the tap on high and splash one or two fingers around to make something like a washing noise, and then pretend to dry my hands off quickly so I could eat.  No matter what noise we made, she always caught us, saying, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness. Now go back and wash those hands. No arguments.” And we would return to the sink to actually wash our hands.

For most of us, washing is a health benefit. Soap and water kills bacteria from surfaces; removes pesticides from fruits and vegetables; and, usually, gets rid of the unidentifiable gross things that seem to accumulate on the hands of active children (and adults). 

In today’s passage, the Pharisees question Jesus about why his disciples are breaking an important tradition:  they are not washing their hands before their meal. Now, Jesus is not being chided for teaching the disciples poor table manners. This is not a complaint from a grossed-out Galilean who saw “Mark” double-dipping his bread in the table’s olive oil bowl.  The Pharisees are accusing Jesus of deliberately opposing an honored practice passed down from Moses, by way of oral tradition through generations.  And while it was correct that being ritually “clean” enabled the priests to access God in the Temple, it was not correct to push things this far. The Pharisees taught the Jewish population to treat a tradition as equal to the law.  Jesus made sure they saw the difference between the two.

As we continue, Jesus points out that it’s not the physical dirt that makes us “dirty”; and it’s not the process of washing that makes us “clean”.  He specifically says in verse 18 that the things which come out of our mouths and hearts are what deem us unclean—the things that already reside within us. Things we know now, only Christ’s sacrifice on the cross can wash away.

As we complete the reading through Matthew 16:12, what is Jesus cautioning about how we regard our human (not God-given) rules? 

What “clean” ways have I mistakenly thought made me acceptable to God?  Would Jesus say they have authority?

What public opinions and stigmas (i.e. the Canaanite woman) push away the “sheep” he came to save?

Are there customs, traditions, or habits that I hold in equal or higher esteem to Christ’s authority and forgiveness?

Ok, put down the Bible and go do it!

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