REFLECTING ON TRADITIONS
Lord, Your Word is sufficient for us.
Read MARK 7:1–13
That Which Defiles
7 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.[a])
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.’[b]
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[c] your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’[d] and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’[e] 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.”
a Mark 7:4 Some early manuscripts pitchers, kettles and dining couches
b Mark 7:7 Isaiah 29:13
c Mark 7:9 Some manuscripts set up
d Mark 7:10 Exodus 20:12; Deut. 5:16
e Mark 7:10 Exodus 21:17; Lev. 20:9
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“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:8). And so is the Gospel that bears witness to Him. Praise be to God!
Today’s episode continues the efforts of the Pharisees and scribes to checkmate Jesus. Earlier, Mark has recorded five confrontations of Jesus by the religious leaders (Mark 2:1 – 3:6). The Pharisees are considered experts in the Mosaic Law: a separatist group focused on the purity of Israel. While we might wash our hands before meals, we are not likely to inspect the hands of others. So, why all the fuss? The primary reference to the washing of hands (plus food and cooking utensils) deals with ceremonial cleansing or purity. The Pharisees view Jesus and His disciples as a rival group who routinely violate their cherished traditions.
Jesus challenges not their traditions but their hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is pretending to be what one is not or pretending to believe what one does not. Jesus exposes the inconsistency between the words and actions of the Pharisees. He points out where their tradition contradicts God’s Word, from which these traditions allegedly originate. Before we condemn the Pharisees, though, let’s remember that a touch of hypocrisy resides in most of us. Our words and our actions are not always in step.
Some people love traditions, while others despise them. In some churches, services have followed the same pattern for generations, while in other churches the very byword is change. The choice of musical instruments or songs can cause divisions in churches. Church traditions are not wrong in themselves, but we should periodically evaluate whether they coincide with the Bible and also why we uphold them. Paul warns against some deceitful traditions but also commends others (Col 2:8; 2 Thess 2:15).
Reflect on the extent to which your words and actions are in sync and how you can keep them better aligned. What is your attitude toward your church’s traditions?
Lord, show us which traditions we may be performing that are out of harmony with Your Word.