Read MARK 7:1–13
The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2 and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)
5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”
6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
7 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’
8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
9 And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Here we have a reminder that we must not put human traditions above the Word of God.
If the disciples yesterday were bemused, at least they were not hostile to Jesus. The same cannot be said for the Pharisees and teachers of the Law in today’s reading, who not only do not understand who Jesus is but are openly hostile to him. However, at this point in the story their hostility is indirectly expressed, as they attack the behavior of Jesus’ disciples rather than Jesus directly.
The story begins with the Pharisees accusing the disciples of eating with unwashed hands (5), but in response Jesus exposes the Pharisees’ supposed religiosity as one that actually permitted them to break a direct command of God (9–12). It is, of course, easy to criticize the Pharisees, but it is important to realize that the original intent of the rules the Pharisees sought to follow, the “traditions of the elders” (5), was to ensure that the Law was observed and not inadvertently broken. The theory was commendable, the practice less so. In his exposé, Jesus showed that the scribal tradition, on which they had placed such a high value, had no legitimacy as an expression of God’s will, and he ruthlessly exposed the Pharisees’ hypocrisy.
We have to recognize that we, as people, are inclined to develop traditions. Irrespective of our church background, I suspect that each of us has particular traditions, and these may have developed from a commendable desire to honor God. But we need to ask constantly: what would Jesus say about our traditions? Would he ruthlessly expose our hypocrisy? Would he expose our apparent religiosity as
being “lip service” rather than “heart service”? We need to ask God to show us where our traditions have become “merely human rules” (7) and not the commands of God.
“The Church (and the individual Christian) needs reminding… that it can be correct in outward form and theology but not have the spirit of Christ” (D. E. Garland). How might this be true of you or your church?