Summary: Jesus calls the scribes hypocrite for judging others unfairly and not judging themselves fairly.
The scribes and Pharisees have left Jerusalem to follow Jesus. No, not to gain spiritual insight but rather to observe him for the purpose of gathering information to be used against him. Why? They are jealous of his popularity! He is stealing their thunder, and eventually they will lose their status with Roman as the spiritual leaders and police of the Jewish people because Jesus is turning the Jewish nation, “Upside Down.”
The scribes and Pharisees observing some of Jesus’ disciples eat with un-washed hands could not hold their peace. This was exactly what they were looking for, something to criticize, and to judge as wrongdoing. For they often wash their hands, obeying the tradition of the elders. But they fail to obey the written Torah, the old time religions given to Moses by God on Mt. Sinai.
To get a feel for what is going on in the text, let’s move away from the text, and go behind it to take a look at the beliefs and practices of Jews in first century Palestine. The Jews of first century Palestine not only had a Bible written on strolls, but a Bible memorize in their heads, the oral Bible. This is the Bible that the Jews in this text call the tradition of the fathers, which was pass on from generation to generation through word of mouth.
Now the Jews in first century Palestine, as well as Rabbinic Jews today, believe that the oral law, tradition of the elders, was given to Moses at the same time that God gave Moses the written law on Mount Sinai. And so when the scribes and Pharisee see some of Jesus disciples eat with un-wash hands they are deeply offended. In their minds the disciples of Jesus are breaking the oral law, which for them is more important than the Written law given to Moses.
The scribes and Pharisees would never eat without washing their hands. And neither would they eat after leaving the market place without washing their hands from the fingertips up to the elbows. Not unlike us, they washed everything. They washed their cups, pots, tables, and beds. There was nothing wrong with them doing so. What was wrong was lifting up the oral Torah, written by their elder fathers, and forgetting that OLD TIME RELIGION, written by God, and given to Moses on the mountain of Sinai.
The scribes and Pharisees observe the disciples of Jesus eat with un-wash hands, approach him saying: “why do your disciples not walk the path of the tradition of the elders, eating bread with un-wash hands?” I tell you these scribes and Pharisees are mean-spirited. They think they are the only ones who know God and what God expects from God’s people.
The scribes have been on the scene since the time of Ezra. They wrote down the law, interpret the law, taught the law, and were the protectors of the law. They taught the law in the synagogues, schools, homes, market places and other gatherings. They also did the recording of transactions, legal documents, and sales in the city, field, home, temple, and synagogue, other gatherings.
The scribes and Pharisees observe the disciples of Jesus eat with un-wash hands, approach him saying: “why do your disciples not walk the path of the tradition of the elders, eating bread with un-wash hands?” Jesus’ response to the question raises by these religious leaders shock us. He calls them hypocrites! Listen: “You bunch of hypocrites! Isaiah the prophet describe you very well when he said, ‘with their lips, this people speak words that honor me, but their heart is far from me. Their worship of me is a joke, for they worship me, teaching the doctrine of men. They lay down the commandments of God, and lift up the commands of men, teaching such things as the washing of pots and cups; and many other man-made rules such as this they do teach.
Have you ever seen a hypocrite? Jesus names hypocrites those who judge others for doing nothing while they do something. What about those who talk nonstop about what teenagers wear, and how terrible they look with pierce ears and dyed hair, while they cheat on their spouses and the church, refusing to tithe even two- percent of their earning.
Re-entering the text, we listen from a distance, as Jesus continues to speak to the scribes and Pharisees saying: You deliberately reject the commandments of God, so that you may keep your own tradition. Let me give you an example of how you reject God’s commandments to follow the tradition of your forefathers. Moses gave you the law that God gave him to give you, saying: “Honor your father and your mother. Whoever curses, speaking evil, of their father or mother must die. (Exodus 21:17)