The work of the Pharisees is laced throughout the New Testament as they questioned and criticized Jesus and his teachings. It usually consisted of following Jesus and his disciples and listening to him teach or watching his actions, then accusing Jesus of violating one of the Jewish commands or traditions.
In Mark 7, the Pharisees were accusing the followers of Jesus for eating without washing their hands. To further understand this, the Pharisees and Jews always made a big deal out of the tradition of washing hands, even to the point of making it ceremonial. This was one of many traditions which had crept into their lives, and it became equal in importance to following the Law.
So the Pharisees confronted Jesus, saying, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?” Did they expect Jesus to confess to some wrongdoing? Could these religious leaders find reason for condemnation of the teachings and activities of this one who was obviously disobedient?
The answer Jesus gave is, no doubt, one that surprised them, but also becomes a point of teaching an important truth. "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!" Read his answer several times, and remember it for our study today.
Later in Mark 7 the travels of Jesus and his disciples brought him to the Sea of Galilee near the Decapolis. While there, some people brought a man to Jesus who was deaf and unable to speak in an understandable fashion. The people wanted Jesus to lay hands on this man to heal him. Verse 33 continues the story, " After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”). The Bible then tells us the man's ears were opened and he could hear. His lips were loosened and he could speak plainly.
What do these stories of the Pharisees and a man healed by Jesus have in common? On the surface, maybe nothing. But there is a reason both of these stories are connected. It has to do with how Jesus answered the Pharisees.
First, we need to understand the methods and practices of our Christianity are made up of both biblical truth and traditions. Here is a test to see if you understand that. Regardless of the church you attend, there are practices which can be identified with scriptural backing. Then there are practices which have been happening in that church for generations because "that's the way it's done here." Attend a church with the same affiliation in another town and you will see some differences, not in the practices based on scripture, but in the practices based on tradition.
Remember, Jesus told the Pharisees they were guilty of observing their own traditions, often at the expense of the commands of God. Some traditions are good some are not. You are encouraged to recognize the difference because when our traditions become our priorities, just like the Pharisees we are impeding the work of Christ.
One thing is clear, in the presence of Jesus, the Pharisees learned he will do and say things which are contrary to "that's the way it's done here." We need to learn that too. "Lord, help me to turn from those traditions which I have insisted on observing, without understanding your way is best. May I be open and receptive to your love, your grace, and your direction for all of your people. Amen."