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Matthew 15:1-20

Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honour your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ he is not to ‘honour his father’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites!” (verses 1-7)


This is a remarkably in-your-face response from Jesus.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law think they have nailed Jesus’ disciples (and, presumably, Jesus himself) with the accusation that they break the tradition of the elders by not washing hands. Clearly, they are deeply offended by this breach, and they are thoroughly convinced that they are absolutely in the right by making this accusation.

But Jesus comes right back at them. He doesn’t immediately respond to the issue of handwashing at all, but instead charges them with valuing their own traditions over and above the commands of God. They have weaseled their way out of honouring fathers and mothers by designating their own resources as “a gift devoted to God,” thereby excusing themselves from any expense on behalf of their parents.

They have clung to their tradition and discarded God’s will.

What would Jesus say to us today? Do we find ourselves getting offended by those who hold different values than our own? Even sometimes when they are brothers and sisters in Christ? Do we come complaining to the Lord (and to one another)? Some of our offense may relate to peripheral issues of eating and drinking and lifestyle. Others may relate to more weighty concerns of sexual ethics or gender issues or political injustice or consumerism or pro-life/pro-choice debates, issues where the Word of God has a clear bearing.

But regardless of the weightiness of the issue itself, I wonder if we too readily excuse ourselves from the Lord’s command to love our neighbours as ourselves. Indeed, some of the most intense debates may come within the Christian community itself over divisive issues, and do we excuse ourselves from Jesus’ specific command to “love one another as I have loved you”? Further, those who have different views than our own may turn abusive and hostile and unloving. Do we excuse ourselves, at that point, from the command of scripture to “forgive … just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32)?

Unlike the Pharisees’ complaint, some of these issues will be much more crucial to discipleship and faith. But may we never let go of our Lord’s commands to love and forgive and bear with one another, difficult as that may be. We honour him by holding to truth, yes, but also by loving just as he himself has loved.

May it be.


Lord Jesus, help me to hold to your truth and, also, to your heart. Help me to love as you have loved and to forgive as you have forgiven. Help me to speak the truth, always in love. Help me by the power of your Spirit. To your glory. Amen.


Reflect: What issues, confronting you at the moment, require you to hold unswervingly to truth? How can you do that while also holding, unswervingly, to love? Ask the Lord’s help.


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