A study by psychologists at the University of Plymouth in England uncovered an interesting trait in humanity which confirm words that Jesus spoke 2,000 years ago.
In the study reported in Scientific American, Sophia Harvey, Simone Schall and Jennifer Benton found that people who considered themselves morally unclean were more apt to judge others as being wrong than those who didn’t feel unclean.
In the study, the researchers had people do a number of activities such as watch brief films where people did something wrong such as lying when they created a resume.
They also had them watch disturbing segments from movies and then after read “moral vignettes.”
An important part of the study was trying to induce a sense of cleanness in the test subjects and they did this by having half of them wash their hands before responding to what they had seen or read. They asked them to wash under the pretense that they would not dirty the room being used by staff.
Even in the Old Testament, ritual cleansing was a major part of the Jewish religious ceremony. There was ritual cleansing for consecration (Exodus 19:10-11) and cleansing (Leviticus 17:15). This included washing clothes (Numbers 31:24), bathing (Leviticus 14:8-9) and washing hands and feet (Exodus 30:17-21).
What researchers discovered is that those who washed their hands were less likely to judge what they watched as being wrong or morally reprehensible. It showed that those who considered themselves unclean were more likely to judge others as being wrong.
And this seems to fall in line with Jesus teaching on judging:
7 “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 2 For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? (Matthew 7:1-3 NASV)
Jesus said when we see the speck in our brother’s eye, we miss the log that is in our own. By implication when we judge we are often guilty of doing the very same thing and in some cases more guilty.
Now one thing I don’t agree with is the study concluding that people who felt morally cleaner did not judge the activity as being wrong as much as those who were morally cleaner. I think people who feel forgiven are more apt to understand the frailties of human nature and how easy it is to fall into the trap of sin and then less likely to judge.
As we move into the New Testament, Jesus dealt with the cleansing rituals of the Old Testament that were still very much a part of Jewish life (John 2:6).
In one instance, Jesus challenged the pharisees who were adding more cleansing rituals than called for in the Old Testament.
The pharisees asked Jesus if His disciples washed their hands and feet when they ate bread. They specifically said this was according to the “tradition of the elders” and not the Scripture (Matthew 15:1-11).
They were referring to the ritual cleansing where Jews washed the uncleanness of the gentiles off their hands and feet after buying bread in the market place. Jesus challenged the pharisees excessive legalism by exposing their hypocrisy in how they treated their parents.
The New Testament is very clear, because of the redeeming work of Jesus we no longer have to perform ritual cleansing (Hebrews 9:6-14). I suspect God included ritual cleansing in the Old Testament to fortify the animal sacrifices that were a foreshadow of the perfect redemption to come in Christ.
We need to purposefully believe and accept that we have been washed by Jesus’ sacrifice and in doing so we will be less likely to judge.
- Clean and virtuous: When physical purity becomes moral purity: Scientific American