SCRIPTURE: Mark 7:1-13
The Tradition of the Elders
1 Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2 they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 3 (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4 and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) 5 So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’ 8 You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
9 Then he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban’ (that is, an offering to God)— 12 then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.”
Loye Bradley Ashton offers his perspective that “Hypocrisy is a negation of authentic life: it is life acted out to fool others, a role that we take on and pretend to be, that is not really us. It is a denial of our authentic self in favor of the fabricated persona that we wish to be. Religious hypocrisy, in particular, is a most destructive kind in that it uses sacred teachings about Truth itself to elevate self-deception. It makes our pretending both a distortion of Truth and a substitute for it.”
While Amy C. Howe also points out that “Welcoming all into God’s kingdom is important. We want to focus on the mundane because facing the sins that stain our own hands is so painful. However, when we face those sins, letting go of that which is unimportant, and turn to God, we are welcome in the sanctuary and at the table.”
Verse eight of this passage really sticks with me, “You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” There is of course something to be said for traditions (or at least some), as they help us to understand our history and where we have come from. However, when human traditions become the focal point instead of God and God’s commandments to us, that is when we run into trouble. I once saw a quote that said, “tradition is just peer pressure from dead people.” And again, while there are some traditions that I personally find value in or appreciate for what they teach us about the past, I cannot help but at some level agree with this quote.
I have too often witnessed people and organizations (yes, even churches) that will hold onto a tradition for the simple reason that “we’ve always done it that way.” If we are going to hold onto traditions, whether faith-based or otherwise, it is important that we also understand their history, their context, their purpose, and then be willing to re-evaluate their importance and appropriateness over time. The world and humanity are constantly changing and things that were once acceptable may not be as time goes on. Slavery was once seen as acceptable but is now seen for the oppressive evil that it is. Holding too tight to traditions because “we’ve always done it that way” can be the final blow to crumbling and dying organizations throughout the world. God wants us to grow in our relationship with God and with each other, which means changing sometimes. Tradition has its place, but we should never be beholden to it at the sacrifice of our faith or of another person’s worth and value as a creation of God.
When has an act of hypocrisy damaged your trust, and when have you yourself promoted hypocrisy? How were you able, if you were, to repair that trust? How did you, if you did, try to make things right after promoting hypocrisy?
Forgiving and love God, we face our sins and release them into your forgiving hands. We give you thanks for your grace and love, for the sacrifice of your Son, Jesus Christ, to save the world. Help us through the power of your Holy Spirit to be better reflections of you, your love, and your grace to the whole world. Amen.