Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” (NRSV)
Consider for a moment what the Pharisees and the scribes notice. Presumably there were many things going on around them – each detail capable of arresting attention. There were people they had never met; the smell of home cooking; an array of colours, sights, and sounds.
In short, a smorgasbord for the senses!
One translation tells us that these leaders surrounded – a rather aggressive word choice – Jesus and his disciples and saw…that their hands were not washed. Of all the possibilities!
Just prior to this incident the gentiles of Genesearet ‘recognised’ Jesus and immediately ‘rushed’ to bring their sick. People begged to brush his cloak. Our author summarises: ‘and all who touched…were healed’ (6:56).
Some didn’t notice the dust on Jesus’ fingers.
But the Pharisees and scribes don’t just notice – they take a further step and vocalise their observation: ‘Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?’
These people have – tragically – come without a question. They observe with a critical heart. They seek only a hold with which to pull down. They have found their focus and everything else is periphery.
To be fair, it is a focus they have been taught. Those they respect held hand washing – and a multitude of other laws – as a priority. So, they reason in this way; know why they think the way they do; employ arguments against counter convictions. They question from trusted, tried, age-old foundations: ‘the tradition of the elders’.
And it blinds them to that which others see so clearly.
We all have traditions. We have cultures and focus. And therefore we all have blind spots.
It is a sobering thought. With Jesus before you, what would your question be? What would you notice? What would you miss?