One day, the Pharisees gathered around Jesus, and with them were some teachers of the law who had just come from Jerusalem.
They noticed that some of his disciples were eating their meal with unclean hands, that is, without washing them. Now the Pharisees, and in fact all the Jews, never eat without washing their hands, for they follow the tradition received from their ancestors. Nor do they eat anything, when they come from the market, without first washing themselves. And there are many other traditions they observe; for example, the ritual washing of cups, pots and plates.
So the Pharisees and the teachers of the law asked him, “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders, but eat with unclean hands?”
Jesus answered, “You shallow people! How well Isaiah prophesied of you when he wrote: This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. The worship they offer me is worthless, for what they teach are only human rules. You even put aside the commandment of God to hold fast to human tradition.”
And Jesus commented, “You have a fine way of disregarding the commandments of God in order to enforce your own traditions! For example, Moses said: Do your duty to your father and your mother, and: Whoever curses his father or his mother is to be put to death. But according to you, someone could say to his father or mother, ‘I already declared Corban (which means “offered to God”) what you could have expected from me.’ In this case, you no longer require him to do anything for his father or mother; and so you nullify the word of God through the tradition you have handed on. And you do many other things like that.”
The Fourth Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother” (Ex 20:12) was clearly meant from the outset to be an admonition to take care of them in their old age, especially if they were needy. Everybody in Israel agreed on this. However, the Pharisees had found a way to circumvent that obligation by inventing the rule of the qorban—a Hebrew word which came to mean “gift” (to the temple of Jerusalem). According to the Pharisees, if a son wanted to avoid supporting his needy parents, all he had to do was to consecrate his property to the temple while continuing to enjoy its revenues. Since property consecrated to the temple could not be employed for profane use, the son was thus dispensed from supporting his parents. At his death his property would revert to the temple treasury. Jesus cuts through this trickery and shows it to be what it is: a betrayal of God’ word.
We are all potential Pharisees, ready to split hairs when we are faced with an obligation we do not like. Let us resist this kind of temptation and let us be big-hearted with God and neighbor. We will never regret it.
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