Saturday of the first week in Advent: Matthew 15:1-20.
Our passage gives another confrontation with the Pharisees:
1 Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, 2 “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”
There is a bit of a alliterative wordplay in the Greek: “Why do your disciples transgress (παραβαινουσι) the tradition (παραδόσιnν) of the elders (πρεβυτερων)?”
Daube points out that it is strategic of the Pharisees that they ask the teacher to justify his disciples’ behavior, and disciples to justify their master.
The Pharisees believe that heightened purity is the means by which the kingdom of God will come.
3 He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?
Jesus takes their question and uses a catchword technique to cast it back at them, but with the more serious charge of breaking God’s commandment.
12 Then His disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?”
The disciples are concerned that Jesus may have inadvertently offended the Pharisees. He answers that he has done so quote deliberately.
16 So Jesus said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated?
This argument is surprising if we take the time to think about it. The logic of it appears to be something like this: Excrement is not ritually unclean (it is nothing but dirt). All foods go into the stomach and are turned into excrement. Therefore food cannot make a man unclean. Also, the stomach is not the seat of a man’s being. It is merely a processing organ that turns food into waste. The heart is the seat of a man’s being. Food doesn’t really “touch” us, or not the real “us”, because it only passes through our digestive tracts. The Bible thus recognizes an inner and an outer aspect of man, but it connects the two: the uncleanness of a man’s heart comes out in his words and actions.