So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”
This is how they work. This is exactly how the enemy comes at you and me. They want to know why you don’t to it another way. More precisely, they want to know why you don’t do it their way. This is a great example for us to use when we are being attacked by the enemy.
They come asking what looks to be a simple question, looking for only a yes or no answer for a problem that is much more complex. They ask a question, looking for only one of two possible answers, and they supply the answers.
I’m not talking about foundational, core questions about who God is, who’s Jesus is, and his sacrifice. I’m talking about questions that have many possible sides, but they reduce it to only two possible answers.
You need to always be on your guard when someone else gives the possible answers. It implies that they alone know the answer, the only answer. They’re trying to push you into a corner, getting you to make a quick decision that you may regret for a long time.
The other part of their strategy is that they don’t just ask you a question and wait patiently for your response. No, they ask, ask again, keep asking over and over. Does this remind you of anyone?
It immediately reminds me of talking heads on TV, cable news or internet broadcasts. A question is asked, and they all start talking over one another. There might come a time when the moderator asks one person a direct question, and that person start answering it. But in just a short time, another person starts jumping over top of them, interrupting them, disturbing them, overshadowing them, talking louder.
Another thing people do is to say what’s important to them and not answer the question. This is called, “staying on message.” Someone asks a question, and no matter what they ask, the person talks about what they want to say. What’s important to them. What they want people to hear.
The other thing they do is to try and get people to make a black-and-white decision on a minor point. They try and push people into a corner over a potentially unimportant question.
The Pharisees and other leaders are not interested in the truth. They are not interested in the least about Jesus as a person, or what he has to say. Their only goal is to get him to say something that they can use to promote their position, their power, their prominence. They’re there for one and only one reason, to trap Jesus so they can beat him up with his own words.
They’re trying to trap him, not about the person or nature of God, but about their own, small, insignificant rules. Where and how to wash hands. And this wasn’t even really washing their hands to clean them. It was a ceremonial washing.
To put it another way, it didn’t clean anything. It was all for show, to impress people. It had nothing to do with actually washing your hands. It certainly didn’t have anything to do with loving, worshiping, or serving God. Nor did it have anything to do with loving people.
People try to push us into similar corners. They make a big deal about little deal topics. Or they purposefully bring up a very emotional or politically charged topic in order to put you on the wrong side of an argument. And in doing so, you get forced into a position that you may not actually believe. You get labeled, you get stained with the Scarlet Letter of being old fashioned, out of touch, out of date, behind the times. Your reputation is permanently positioned as against what’s popular, what’s new, what’s modern.
But when it comes to core, fundamental truths, there are some non-negotiables. I’m not talking about areas of preference, but areas of life where God has made his truth and opinion abundantly clear. There are certain things where there is no wiggle room.
And ceremonial hand washing is not one of them.
We have a part to play, we have a responsibility. We are not only to know the truth but to have discernment about areas where God has given options, flexibility, and room for creativity.
Example – worship. We are to worship God and God alone, period. There is no room for negotiation. But there is room for how we practice worship. With or without music. What kind of music. How much music.
Example – giving. We are to give back to God in response to his giving to us and who he is, period. There is no room for negotiation. But there is room for how we practice giving. Weekly, monthly. Cash, check, credit card. In person or through an app.
Jesus wasn’t suckered in by their trap. And neither should we.
Be on the lookout for the “why don’t you” temptation.