Our King combatting formalists
When our Lord was busiest his enemies assailed him. These ecclesiastics “of Jerusalem” were probably the cream of the set, and from their great reputation they reckoned upon an easy victory over the rustic preacher.
Perhaps they were a deputation from headquarters, sent to confound the new Teacher. They had a question to raise, which to them may have seemed important, or possibly they pretended to think it so to answer their own purposes. Traditions of the elders were great things with them: to transgress these must be a crime indeed. Washing of the hands is a thing proper enough, one could wish it were oftener practiced, but to exalt it into a religious rite is a folly and a sin.
These “scribes and Pharisee” washed their hands, whether they needed washing or not, out of a supposed zeal to be rid of any particle that might render them ceremonially unclean. Our Lord’s disciples had so far entered into Christian liberty that they did not observe the rabbinical tradition: “they wash not their hands when they eat bread.” Why should they wash if their hands were clean? Tradition had no power over their consciences. No man has any more right to institute a new duty than to neglect an old one.
The issuing of commands is for the King alone. Yet these religionists enquire why the Lord’s disciples break a law which was no law. It will be well if our opponents are unable to bring against us any worse charge than this.