Wash Their Hands

Today’s devotion from Matthew 15. Jesus’ disciples were in trouble. They dared to break traditional practices. The one in question concerned washing one’s hands before eating. At issue was the tradition (not Law) that stated that to eat without washing your hands contaminated the food and made you unclean. It had nothing to do with hygiene, and everything to do with misunderstanding sin. In fact, some Jewish leaders taught that eating without washing your hands was as bad as adultery, a sin that could be punished with stoning. This is why Jesus clarifies the point in verse 11, “It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth—this defiles a person.” (Matthew 15:11, CSB)

These religious leaders were not interested in the personal purity of the disciples. They were concerned with upholding the traditions through which they held power. This is also why the disciples told Jesus in verse 12 that these religious leaders were “offended” by what He had said. Jesus was calling them out in front of the sheep they misled. He had not come to maintain the status quo, but to chart a new course, one unrecognized and unfamiliar to these blind guides.

In contrast, we see a Gentile woman who was not a follower of the Law or the traditions of the elders. She didn’t care about power or ritual. All that mattered to her was the suffering of her poor daughter. Initially, it appears that Jesus isn’t interested in helping her. He says He came for Israel, not for Gentiles. Yet her faith was so persistent that Jesus heard her prayer and answered it by ridding her daughter of the demonic tormentor.

Was Jesus so heartless that He would have passed by this woman in her brokenness for her daughter? I can’t speak for Jesus’ motivations. I’m sure there were many in Israel that were not healed by Him. However, what we can be certain of is that He was not touched by the Pharisees’ calls for tradition, but He was moved to action by this woman’s pleading faith for her suffering daughter. She may not have had clean hands, but she had faith, and that was more important.