Did you notice that in the narrative about Christ's teaching on "clean and unclean" that the Gospel accounts say that it was some of Christ's disciples who didn't wash their hands? In other words, they do not say that all of the disciples ignored washing their hands - and, more importantly, they do not say that Christ didn't wash his hands! Isn't it interesting that the scribes and Pharisees didn't accuse Christ of not following the tradition - their question was about the behavior of some of his disciples.
Notice also Christ's teaching about the Sabbath in this regard. We read: "At that time Jesus went on the Sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungered, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the Sabbath day. But he said unto them, 'Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungered, and they that were with him; how he entered into the house of God, and did eat the showbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests? Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the Sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple. But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath day.'" (Matthew 12:1-8, see also Mark 2:23-28 and Luke 6:1-5) Once again, the accounts focus on the behavior of Christ's disciples. They do not say that Jesus plucked the heads of grain and ate them!
What about the story that follows this account? It does deal specifically with Christ's behavior on the Sabbath. Continuing, we read: "And when he was departed thence, he went into their synagogue: And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath days? that they might accuse him. And he said unto them, 'What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the Sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the Sabbath days.' Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thin hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other." (Matthew 12:9-13, see also Mark 3:1-5 and Luke 6:6-10) Once again, Christ underscored that the traditional understanding and interpretation of the Mosaic Law was flawed; but this time he acted. Notice, however, that he acted well within the confines of the Mosaic Law by reminding his would be accusers of another provision of that Law (see Deuteronomy 22:4).
In similar fashion, we can read how the disciples of John the Baptist and a group of Pharisees once asked Christ about the behavior of his disciples relative to fasting (Matthew 9:14-17, Mark 2:18-22 and Luke 5:33-39). Notice that yet again the question is about the behavior of his disciples - there is no suggestion that Christ wasn't fasting. And notice Christ's very interesting concluding statement in this account: "No man also seweth a piece of new cloth on an old garment: else the new piece that filled it up taketh away from the old, and the rent is made worse. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles." (Mark 2:21-22) Christ is clearly implying here that something new or different is being introduced.
We read in a previous post how Christ asserted that he came to the earth to completely fulfill the Mosaic Law and the prophets. Even so, he did not avail himself of the opportunity to assert that those things were perfect (or that all of them were even God ordained). In fact, Christ's teaching about the Law underscored the fact that the traditional understanding of it was NOT in harmony with God's purpose and will!
Indeed, after he made that statement about fulfilling the requirements of the Law, he proceeded to teach his audience that the traditional understanding of the Mosaic Law was flawed! He quoted the commandment against murder and said that the principle also applied to those who were angry with their brother (Matthew 5:21-25). He quoted the commandment against adultery and told them that it applied to anyone who lusted after a woman in his mind (verses 27-28). He quoted the Mosaic teaching on divorce and told them that the only acceptable reason to get a divorce was infidelity (verses 31-32). He talked about the provisions in the Law regarding vows and said that oaths originated in evil (verses 33-37). He quoted the Mosaic principle of "an eye for an eye" and told them that it was inappropriate to retaliate against someone who has wronged you (verses 38-42). Finally, he completely nullified the Mosaic principle that it is ok to hate your enemy (verses 43-47).
Regarding the Mosaic principle of divorce, Christ later went much further in what he had to say about the teaching and its origins.
When the Pharisees asked him if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason, Jesus quoted from Genesis and told them that it was impossible for men to separate what God had joined together (Matthew 19:3-6). Notice the remainder of the account: "They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, 'Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.'" (Matthew 19:8-9) Did you catch that? Jesus said that Moses (not God) introduced this provision because they were so hard hearted!
So let's back up for just a moment and take stock of where we're at. Christ taught that the traditional understanding of the intent and origins of the Law that he was committed to keeping perfectly was wrong! So one could say that Christ was conservative in his observance of that Law, but that his teachings regarding it could be considered to be very radical from a traditionalist's perspective. How does one reconcile such an apparent contradiction? We'll explore an answer to that question in my next post on this subject.