Scripture Reference: Matthew 15:1-20
The self-righteous church leaders of Jesus’ day inadvertently presented Him with golden opportunities to correct distorted thinking. In this portion, Jesus discusses how important it is to focus on what’s truly important to God.We are prone to looking at outward things and use it as yardsticks to measure others.
Jesus wants to shift our focus. Not everyone who followed Jesus wanted to learn from Jesus. Some followed Him to see if they can find fault in Him. The church leaders of His time were some of His most loyal followers –but for the wrong reasons. Since they looked and looked and couldn’t find any fault in Him, they started to zoom in on His disciples. It was not long before they found what they were looking for. “Why do your disciples break the traditions of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
The disciples were, according to them, breaking an important church rule, but were they breaking God’s rules? Apparently not. This is clear in Jesus’ response to their question. Their question was about the rules of the elders (church leaders). Jesus’ response was about the rules of God: “And why do you break the commands of God for the sake of your tradition?” Jesus points out their hypocrisy.
“But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ In this way, you say they don’t need to honor their parents. And so you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition. You hypocrites!”
They were teaching people that they must give money to “God” and neglect helping people. In this instance Jesus referred in particular to the command to honour your parents. It is against God’s laws to “give to God” and neglect the people closest to you who needs your assistance.
It appears the leaders never had God in mind when enforcing their rules; they had themselves in mind. Perhaps, by convincing people they are giving to God, they got to pocket the money and live lavish lifestyles while the people who gave could, in some cases, hardly afford to buy food. “The Lord enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people:“It is you who have ruined my vineyard;the plunder from the poor is in your houses.” (Isaiah 3:14).
Whatever they gather in this life, they gather not by hard work, but by plundering the poor among His people. They nullify the word of God for the sake of their church and their selfish desires. We show our love for God by helping people (see Hebrews 6:10), not hierarchic institutions which are more concerned about advancing themselves than they are about advancing the Gospel and helping the needy.
Jesus shows them that Isaiah predicted their hypocrisy when he said that people like them are hypocrites who honour God with their lips while their hearts are far from Him. Their so-called worship of God is in vain because they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.
Jesus expertly puts things in perspective for His listeners. These leaders were so focused on the outside that they neglected the most important part –the heart. God is not looking at what you put into your mouth. He is looking at what comes outof your mouth. In other words, your speech, not your diet, reveals what lives in your heart and God looks at the heart. The externals don’t tell us much about the heart and if we measure someone by their dietary habits, clothing, status, etc., we’re missing what’s really important to God.
Are the things that matter to us in line with what matters to God? If not, is it important to us to find out what’s really important to God? There is this danger that we could become so caught up in advancing a church group and its leaders that we never really take the time to find out what’s truly important to God. Our love for God should compel us to learn about what matters to Him and to focus our energies instead on those things.