This is the instruction that we are given every day since the start of this terrible COVID-19 pandemic. It is one of the important actions that all of us must strictly observe, to stem the spread of this coronavirus. And to protect ourselves and our loved ones. This is now the new normal.
The subject of washing or cleansing the hands also came up in Jesus’ time. Matthew 15: 1–20 describe the events that took place that had resulted in the increased antagonism by the Pharisees and scribes against Jesus. They had seen that Jesus’ disciples were eating their food with unwashed hands. The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands. And especially when they come from the market-place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves. The Pharisees used this to accuse Jesus and his disciples for violating the “tradition of the elders”.
Washing your hands may seem like a minor thing (though now with COVID-19 it’s essential). However, back then, this was a very important consideration to these Jews. Why? Because it was not a matter of personal hygiene, but a matter of religious tradition, tied directly to ceremonial cleansing.
The Law of Moses had many ceremonies. These were stipulated to remind the people of Israel of their need for GOD, that they were set apart to GOD. They were required to be separated from anything that was ceremonially unclean. The Law was never intended to be a religion of mere rituals, procedures or traditions. Take circumcision, for example. It is not just an important outward sign of being a Jew, but rather a reflection of an inner reality.
Deuteronomy 10: 12-16 states this command clearly. To fear the LORD your GOD, to walk in all His ways, to love Him … and to keep the LORD’s commandments. Verse 16 tells the people most pointedly: “So circumcise your heart and stiffen your neck no longer.” (italics mine).
It is a matter of the heart. Fearing the LORD our GOD, walking in His ways, loving Him and keeping His commandments must all come from our heart.
The Pharisees and religious teachers were so concerned with the outward observance of the laws of cleanness, and other traditions and observances that they failed to realize that the real defilement was sin. The real source of uncleanness was the human heart. That brought about a stern rebuke from Jesus that they were being hypocritical in criticizing his disciples for breaking a tradition when they were doing something far worse in breaking the commandment of GOD.
The coronavirus pandemic has taken the whole world by storm. We are shocked into stillness and reflection. The way we live, work and run our family lives are all shaken up. Even the way we do church and have our congregational worship. We are no longer physically meeting as a congregation together, not even as a small group church. GOD is indeed at work in causing a complete shake-up of even the traditions that we hold dear. C.H. Spurgeon once challenged his own congregation about traditions, by asking: “If there were no Sunday morning service at eleven, how many of you would be Christians?”
The worship of GOD is not about the music, the services, the liturgy, or the things we do in a worship service. No matter how good the music, the prayers and even the preaching may be by traditional standards, if we are just going through the motions and not bringing our hearts and minds to focus on the Lord Jesus Christ, we have not given reverence to GOD and our worship is in vain. I have learned that it is far more important for me and you to get our hearts right with GOD. This begins with faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord, and finding forgiveness and cleansing from GOD through Him. True worship of GOD comes from the heart, our inner being. And if the heart is not cleansed, the traditions and external rituals (washing of hands) mean nothing.
May this be our prayer to the LORD:
“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” “Create in me a clean heart, O GOD, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” Psalm 51:7, 10-12)
By Andrew Yap (YCKC Bulletin 26 April 2020)