What was the purpose of the Law? Both the first reading and the gospel are getting at the heart of its purpose. For the past few days Paul has been making the point that when considering our relationship with Christ, it is not primarily about following a set of rules and regulations, but is rather about that change of heart that leads to our living out our full humanness.
Where is our heart? For that is the question that is really what we are called to answer. In fact, Jesus tells us there is a deep relationship between what we value and our heart. Whatever captures our heart becomes the most important in our lives.
When it comes to religion, there can be a temptation to avoid the hard work of conversion, and to allow ourselves the easy work of following a few rules. Then, we have the pride of being faithful, without really having to make any difficult changes in our life.
It is easy to understand why we would focus on those rules that are easy to keep. True conversion is hard work. Turning our back upon sin is not an easy thing. By carefully avoiding the hard work, and focusing upon the easy rules to follow, we never really grow in our faith life.
This is what the Pharisees are doing. While there are good reasons to wash your hands before you eat, this is not really the point that is being made today. No where does Jesus suggest that we should not follow these rules. What he does suggest is that rules are the problem when they become ends in themselves.
The purpose of religious law is that it provides the structure for us to get into a deeper relationship with God. And this is the point Jesus is making with the Pharisees. It makes no sense to follow a minor point of the Law if the primary purpose of the Law is neglected. So do not settle for the external at the expense of the interanal. Change your hearts to enter into the life changing relationship only Jesus can give.