It says that the Pharisees and scribes came to him “then.” When? When he had worked thousands of signs, when he had healed the sick with the touch of his tassel. It is for this reason that the Evangelist indicates the time, so that he might show that their unspeakable wickedness is second to none. But what is intended by the phrase “the scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem”? They were scattered everywhere throughout the tribes and were divided into twelve parts. But the ones who were in charge of the mother city were more wicked than the others, because they enjoyed more honor and had become extremely arrogant.1
Among other observations, some of the Jewish elders ruled that a person should not take or eat food unless he first washed his hands. This observation, however, reveals a particular custom that is human and produces no beneficial effect. Therefore this tradition of the elders is practically useless, for it does not benefit a person’s health. No justification is gained from this tradition, and no harm is done in disregarding it. For God is not concerned whether a man washes his hands before eating but whether he has kept his heart washed and his conscience clean from the filth of sin. Truly, what good is it to wash your hands and to have a defiled conscience? The Lord’s disciples were clean of heart and were guided by an untainted conscience. Hence they were not overly concerned with washing their hands. They had washed them once in baptism with their whole body, in accord with our Lord’s words to Peter: “He who has bathed needs only to wash, and he is clean all over, as you are clean.”2
We are accused by the Jews and Ebionites of being violators of the laws that we read in Leviticus and Deuteronomy concerning clean and unclean food. But by means of what is said in this passage we are clearly taught by the Savior not to think that the simple meaning of these laws is the aim intended in the Scripture. For Jesus says, “Not that which enters into the mouth defiles a person but that which comes out of the mouth.” Especially significant is what is said in the Gospel of Mark: “Thus he declared all foods clean.” Since all this is so, it is obvious that we are not defiled when we eat things that are said to be unclean by Jews, who want to serve the letter of the law. Instead, we are defiled when we say whatever happens to be on our mind and we talk about things that we should not talk about, even though our lips should be bound “with perception” and we should make for them “a measuring balance and a standard of measure.” The spring of sins comes to us from such talking.3
“They are blind guides of blind people.” Who are these blind guides? The Pharisees, whose minds “the god of this age has blinded” because they are “unbelieving,” since they did not believe in Jesus Christ. The god of this age has blinded them “so that the light of the gospel of the glory of God in the face of Christ would not shine on them.” We ought to avoid being guided by those blind persons. Not only should we do this, but we certainly should also listen with caution in the case of those who claim to lead in the way of healthy teaching and ought to apply healthy judgment to what they say. We should do these things so that we ourselves do not appear to be blind because we do not see the meaning of the Scriptures. We would become blind like this if we were guided by the ignorance of people who are blind and people who do not perceive the issues of healthy teaching. If we were led by such people, both the one who leads and the one who is led would fall into the pit.4
- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 51.1. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 17). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- TRACTATE ON MATTHEW 53.1. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 18). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW 11.12. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 22). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW 11.14. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (pp. 23–24). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.