In the Jewish tradition, the washing of the hands is a pre-mealtime obligation. During those times, it was considered as the “ideal of holiness”, that one needs to do a careful, ritualistic cleaning of the hands. In the Gospel, the Pharisees observed that the Apostles weren’t washing their hands before partaking of the food. This omission became the issue that the Pharisees brought up with Jesus. He responded by telling them
“ Well, did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written:
‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me;
In vain do they worship me, teachings as doctrines human precepts.’
You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition!” (Mk. 7: 6-8)
Jesus was merely reminding the Pharisees to their own blind spot in matters of religious observance. He sought to clarify what true holiness is: it is a matter of the heart, the so-called “inner sanctuary” where thoughts, feelings, desires, are formed; its output reveals what the person’s true nature is all about. True holiness speaks of what comes from the heart: pure, untainted, single-minded love for God. It also speaks about wholeness, a deep sense of integrity, wherein there is only oneness amongst body, mind and spirit.
Thus, external acts should only be a marker as to what is happening in the internal body of the person: what he thinks, feels, or desires. While the Jews and the Pharisees believe the ritual as one to please Yahweh God, they actually missed the whole point of holiness. This desire for purity must have a root coming from our heart. Acting out without internal basis can’t win holiness and salvation for you and me. Actions coming out only externally is devoid of meaning and is a sham.
Today is a good time to reflect on what our motivations in life are. It is a good time to clean up the clutter that messes up our path to holiness. Let us renew our mind and wash our heart so that our relationship with the Lord will become better and fitting for a child truly His own.