Our reading from Saint Mark today is quite shocking. It is shocking because no one, but no one, could hope to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees. Righteousness is their norm. It was their job. That’s why in our reading today when they saw that the disciples of Jesus did not wash their hands before eating, and did not observe other traditions concerning the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles, they were quick to spot the infractions.
Jesus is now telling the crowds to look at the Pharisees and their righteousness and then tells them they have to do better than that!
It must have seemed hopeless — but then Jesus takes some time and explains what he means. He launches into a series of “You’ve heard it said ... but I say to you” statements.
The point is clear. Righteousness is not what you do on the outside, but who you are on the inside. Righteousness is not about the hand, it is about the heart. The Pharisees, Jesus noted, looked good on the outside, but were clueless and rotten on the inside.
So the bad news for the people of Jesus’ day was they had to be better than the Pharisees to get into heaven.
The good news is that if we can get the heart right, everything else will fall into place.