Ritual washing of the hands, the issue in Mark, involves pouring water over each hand at least twice and allowing the water to run off the fingers followed by the blessing for the bread. There are several other ritual washings, all done the same way, but not always with a blessing. Ritual washing today is generally done after washing normally with hand soap. The ritual has little to do with getting the hands clean.
This ritual has no Biblical basis, instead, created by rabbis a century or two before Jesus to encourage all Jews to be more involved in the Temple practice of purity. Jesus’ response to the critics was correct according to the law but violated the social norms of Judaism.
It is possible that Jesus, and almost certainly the Apostles, engaged in ritual washing throughout their lives. Here, they were out in the field with no water, so they ate their bread without washing. I imagine the four fishermen among them ‘washed’ their hands while hauling fish aboard by sticking them in the lake water before eating.
Jesus was not big on rituals. The Law, yes, but not man-made rules.
Which brings us to our roles as Christian Americans. Think about the social norms many of us follow that clash with the teachings of Jesus.
In 1954, the phrase, “under God,” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance. Few Christians even think about it, but is it proper? Are we excluding non-believers? Is that the Christian way?
The man who convinced President Eisenhower to push Congress to pass the change was a Scottish minister of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D. C., Rev. George Docherty. The church is known as the church of Presidents since Abe Lincoln attended. (Yes, he did attend, but was not a member.)
Docherty worked tirelessly with the Civil Rights movement and later criticized the Viet Nam war. He believed in standing up for social justice. Saluting the flag had little to do with it.
What about voting and political party membership? Jesus was not a supporter of the government leaders, either Judaic or Roman, but does that mean we should not? Since the 1980’s the so-called Evangelical vote has always gone for the Republican Presidential candidates. Is that proper? That is, should I vote only based on my party preference? Should I have a party preference? (Before LBJ, that same bloc voted Democratic most of the time.)
Many Christians today are strong on the military, again, seemingly in contrast to Jesus. This is a tough one because there are enemies intent on our destruction. The problem is in the quality of support. Glorify or respect? Do we treat it as a necessary evil or do we take pleasure in killing our enemies? God loves them as much as He loves us.
God’s love is the issue. He loves every human and wants every human to love Him. He also wants us to love every human just as He does. If we love Him, we will do all we can to help our fellow humans in need. Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? ESV
The righteous in this parable from Matthew are those who fed as many as they could. They did not worry about where they came from or if they were scamming the system; they offered help. True justice is about taking risks. Even a Christian soldier in battle will do what he can for those in need, enemy or not.
Read my earlier comments on this theme here.
Be righteous and do good.