The Pharisees had a religious custom of ceremonially shining their dishware and washing themselves in a ritual fashion. The Pharisees looked well polished like the cups and bowls they ate out of. They were the original clean freaks; they could have easily coined the phrase ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’.
Jesus came to the table and got in position to start eating. He passed by the washing pots. This created some tension at the table. Why wasn’t Jesus conforming to the expected standards the Pharisees set? ‘Such washing was not for reasons of hygiene, but ceremonial purity. The hands made contact with all sorts of things, some of which may have been ritually defiling. Scrupulous Jews purified themselves by washing their hands before eating so that defiled hands would not contaminate their food.[i] ‘
Jesus the fraud detector opens His mouth and seizes a teaching moment. To paraphrase it he says, “You people are like the cup and dish you polish. You work hard at making sure everything looks good. But, that’s image management. Inside you there is greed and wickedness. You are more concerned about filling your dish with food than you are about giving food to those who really need it.”
They were more concerned with looking good than being good. The truth is that God does not judge us by the public performance as much as the hidden realities of our heart. Any good behavior that God requires of us is in the context of authenticating an inner reality. God doesn’t want us to fake it ‘til we make it.
Greed and wickedness were in their hearts. Jesus would rather that they confess this inward reality. If they told the truth about themselves to the poor, things would clean up inside them. Humble confession is an important part of recovery.