Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Jesus was after the Pharisees because of their traditions – something that he seemed to do regularly. They had, over the years, built up many traditions. While they had great intentions, they had managed over the years to become more attached to the letter of their traditions than the spirit of the Law. They had come up with some pretty ridiculous things for people to do, and Jesus was quick to challenge them.
Jesus’ disciples began to eat without first washing their hands. This horrified the Pharisees, who were less interested in feeding hungry people than making sure all the boxes on the list had been checked. They approached Jesus reprovingly. But Jesus’ answer was different from what they expected.
Sometimes we let our traditions get in the way of loving and ministering to people. Sometimes we forget that God sees the heart, not the outward appearance. Sometimes we’ve built up traditions to shield us from things we don’t like, and to release them would be to open ourselves up to new, uncomfortable things.
Jesus challenges us to rethink what we do. Instead of automatically saying “but we’ve always done it this way,” Jesus wants us to stop and consider the big picture. By doing it the way it has always been done, are we missing out on something big that God wants to do? By not doing something simply because we’ve never done it that way before, are we limiting God and telling him he cannot move in new ways?
This doesn’t mean we go to the opposite extreme and have no tradition at all. It doesn’t mean we reject all rules. There is a definite tension between being faithful to God’s commands, on the one hand, and being free to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, on the other. But the good news is that God will never ask us to do something that is contrary to what he’s previously told us to do. He will not tell us to go against his own commandments.
Tradition is good. It helps us pass culture on to the next generation. It helps us have stability and direction. We simply cannot take it too far, allowing it to get in the way of our walk with God, or allowing it to become more important than God. And sometimes we have to put aside what we’ve always done in order to follow God into new things.
Jesus wants us to love our neighbors more than we love our traditions. Are you prepared to set things aside to follow his command?