The unwashen hands

The unwashen hands

The Unwashen Hands.

(The Gospel History, Section 65)

And there are gathered together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which had come from Jerusalem, and had seen that some of his disciples ate their bread with defiled, that is, unwashen, hands. For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands diligently, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders; and when they come from the marketplace, except they wash themselves, they eat not: and many other things there be, which they have received to hold, washings of cups, and pots, and brasen vessels. And the Pharisees and the scribes ask him, saying, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but transgress it, and eat their bread with defiled hands?

The unwashen hands

(The Saviour of the World, Vol IV, Book II, Poem XXXI)

All seemly ways of life, how sweet they be!
How good to sit at meat from soil made free—
Due service order’d with the sedulous care
We give to prime occasions: we would share
Our bread with them who need, but there’s a line
’Twixt us who eat prepared and those who dine
Straight from the market or the workshop come,—
With never rite of cleansing. Nay, our home
Demands this service of us; ’tis not pride,
Nor would we these, unwashed, with scorn deride.
But we may, hap, be separate; we whose plate,
Cup, cover, napkin, all,—immaculate.”
(So mused a man whose ordered house was fair;
Nor knew he Pride sate Lord of all things there.)

Yet some disciples ate with unwashed hands,—
Performed not washings Jewish rite demands.

Ezekiel heard a whisper,—“Son of man
Sorrow shall compass thee, and thou must plan
To bear thy grief in ways men do not use;—
The desire of thine eyes at one stroke thou shalt lose;
Cry not aloud, nor mourn, nor shed salt tears;
Show thou amongst men as happy man appears,
Nor tell by covered lip nor any sign
That thou grievest under chastisement divine.”
At evening his wife died: and in the morn,
He went as one who had no cause to mourn.
“Wilt thou not tell what meaneth it to us
That thou, a stricken man, behavest thus?”—
For Israel knew the prophet gave a sign
Whose meaning it behoved them to divine.

Those later Jews saw sign when Christ sat down,
And some of His followers made their freedom known
By eating, arrogant, with unwashed hands,—
As slighting openly the Law’s demands.
The Pharisees spake, annoyed,—“What means this thing?
What doctrine alien wouldst before us bring?”
The Master’s inner thought they had divined;
Now, how receive they His outspoken mind?

And the Lord spake:—

St. Matthew xv. 1, 2.
St. Mark vii. 1-5.