Our family often holds hands when we pray before a meal. My son usually sits to my left, and holding his hand is like gripping warm flypaper. It’s sticky and smells like toads, baseballs, and dog hair. And, quite honestly, sometimes there are even flies attached to them. You should also know that I have a thing for clean hands. When I was a biology major in college I developed a mild case of misophobia. We buy Dial antibacterial soap in the economy size, and “Wash your hands!” is a mantra around our home.
The other night when my son glued his hand to mine at the dinner table, I started lecturing him about how important it is to clean his hands before he eats. He could have washed his hands ten times in the time it took me to lecture him on good hygiene.
Later that night I read the kids a Bible story from Mark 7:1-23, and I felt a wee bit challenged. That’s the story of Jesus’ disciples eating dinner without washing their hands, and the religious leaders who made a big deal over it. Jesus responded to them:
“There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”
What an amazing statement about the kingdom of God. It means you could spend all day feasting on cow pies in western Nebraska, and if your heart has been made clean by the gospel of grace, you are utterly pure before God.
Likewise, you can eat the most kosher cracker on a sterilized plate and if your heart is sick with sin and self, then you are defiled before God.
What does this mean for parents whose children have dirty hands?
Well, I can promise you right now that I’m NOT going to stop having Aidan wash his hands. But this passage is a great reminder that we’ve got keep the focus on the heart, and not the dirt on the hands. If all we do is focus on externals—performance, behavior, and cleanliness—we’re not acting in harmony with what Jesus said is the priority in the kingdom of God.