Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying,
The omission with which the Pharisees here charge the disciples was that of a ceremonial observance on which they laid immense stress. Certain washings for purification had been commanded by the Law of Moses, but to these countless additions of a minute and vexatious kind had been added by the rabbis. Even when no defilement had been consciously contracted, the washings must be observed because, unwittingly, a man might touch what would defile him. Wherever in religion such human inventions are accepted as binding, they tend to become more prominent than the fundamental moral law. It was so in this case, and it is to this our Lord's words point. "By your tradition," he says, "ye make the Word of God of none effect. You put aside his commandment that you may keep your own tradition. You accept as the important things such trifles as these, while the truly great things of the Law you utterly neglect." But the evil of Pharisaism lay even deeper than this. The Pharisees were not mere formalists; those of Paul's type could honestly say that, touching the Law, they were blameless. Their mistake was that they thought their good actions made them good men. Our Lord came to give men clear perception and hold of the real distinction between good and evil. Men were not to be allowed to suppose the distinction between good men and bad was a slight one, that could be bridged over by a few acquired habits or formal observances. They were to be made to see that the distinction was deep as humanity itself; that their goodness must be one that would be eternal; not being the result of a superficial imitation, or attempt to satisfy the expectations or win the applause of men, but springing from the man's inmost self. To illustrate the principle that respect to human tradition tends to disrespect of God's Law, our Lord cites an instance well known to them. Under the guise of extra devotion to God, a man could evade the first of human duties by merely saying over anything he wished to keep, "Corban" - "It is devoted." This was monstrous, and the system which encouraged it manifestly "a plant which his Father had not planted." The principle which lies at the root of our Lord's teaching here he enounces in the words, "There is nothing from without a man that, entering into him, can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile a man." We may apply this in two ways.
1. To those who, under the guise of greater religiousness than that of other men, evade the common duties of life; who, in defending some trifle that hangs to the skirt of religion, do not scruple to transgress the broad laws of justice, truth, and charity which form its life. Every age has had its representatives of the Pharisees, the defenders of traditional religion, who have shown the same unscrupulousness and intolerance in defence of what they suppose to be religious truth. And when we consider the damage done to religion by such persons, and the difficulty of convincing them of their error, we do not wonder that no class was so frequently and so unsparingly denounced by our Lord. In every religious community there is a tendency to place the keeping of certain observances that are added to the Law above the Law itself; to consider these extra things as the marks of a religious man, and to call a man religious or irreligious according as he does or does not things that have as little to do with fundamental morality as the washing of hands before eating. We are apt, all of us, to pay attention to the means rather than to what is the great end of all religion; to wash our hands instead of our hearts. "These things ye ought to have done, but not to have left the others undone." All these things that are peculiar marks of religious people are good, but become enormous evils when out of proportion to the essential matters of the Law - of morality, of justice and truth between man and man, of love to God and to our fellows. Or:
2. We may consider the principle as enouncing the general truth that man's life is determined in all respects by what is within, not by what is without. Our Lord was sinless, not because he was not in circumstances of temptation, but because there was nothing on which temptation could fix. We lay the blame of our low spiritual condition, our actual fails, on our circumstances. But why is it these circumstances tempt us? Others pass through them without peril. The blame is within. We must seek for the remedy, also, within. The change that determines our destiny is a change in ourselves. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying,