Wash before You Eat

person washing his hand

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Reading the Word

Luke 11:37–54 (ESV)

37 While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. 38 The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. 39 And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.

42 “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 43 Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. 44 Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.”

45 One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.” 46 And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. 47 Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. 48 So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs. 49 Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ 50 so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation. 52 Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.”

53 As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, 54 lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.

Understanding and Applying the Word

The Pharisees were devout Jews who emphasized the keeping of the law as well as other rules they had put in place to make sure the law was kept. An example of such extra rules concerned washing in a certain way before meals. When a Pharisee observed that Jesus did not wash before dinner, he questioned Jesus about it. Jesus’ response was pointed and showed the hypocritical nature of the Pharisees.

Jesus replied, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.” Jesus’ point was that the Pharisees might have lived according to their lists of external rules, but their hearts were far from God. The Pharisees looked great to the outside observer, but their hearts were full of sin.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day have much in common with those we would call “legalists” today. Legalists are those who make up lists of what is and is not allowed and base their spiritual maturity off of how well they can live by such lists. They also use the lists to judge the maturity of others. However, keeping a list of rules does not mean that a person’s heart is right, which is the main test of maturity and true devotion to God. May we ask the Lord to work in our hearts to desire what he desires so that he is glorified in both our actions and our passions.

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