In the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been, quite rightly, an emphasis placed on good hand hygiene. But when the Scribes and Pharisees criticized Jesus for allowing his disciples to eat without first washing their hands, it had nothing to do with concern for hygiene. Rather, the enemies of Jesus launched their attack on moral and religious grounds. They pointed sharp fingers and ask Jesus: “Why do your disciples not live according to the traditions of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” (Mark 7:6b)
When Jesus replied to this criticism, he teaches us an important lesson about the nature of sin: it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
Jesus teaches that it is from within our hearts that sin arises: “for it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions comes: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:21)
The easiest thing in the world to do is focus on the sins--or supposed sins--of others while overlooking our own. Being hard on others and easy on ourselves is easy. But Jesus doesn’t let us get away with that. God sees into our hearts and the sin gestating within us.
And when God, in perfect righteousness, condemns the sin in our hearts, we can do as the Scribes and Pharisees did and foster a righteous outward appearance by highlighting the short-comings of others, or we can look deeply into our own hearts see the things we have done or have failed to do, see our sinful desires, and then, with a truly repentant heart, turn to the one who gifts us with divine forgiveness. For it is through that forgiveness that life and freedom is found.Christian freedom isn’t freedom to live according to our own will, but to do our best to carry out the will of God. We will be imperfect as we go, struggling with sin along the way. But let us take heart in knowing that through his life, death, and resurrection, Christ has done all for us already!