October 9, 2021
Bodhi K. Der Parunakian
Rutledge Circuit, Mountain View District
Matthew 15:1-9 NIV15 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
3 Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’[a] and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’[b] 5 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ 6 they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
8 “‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
9 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.
DevotionJesus had a difficult time dealing with the Pharisees and other teachers of the law who insisted on clinging to tradition above obeying God. This criticism came when the Pharisees confronted Jesus with the fact that his disciples did not wash their hands before they ate (Matthew 15:2). Jesus responds harshly to their actions and calls them hypocrites for obeying a traditions which breaks the commands of God. Jesus reminds them of the words found in the eighth chapter of Isaiah: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.”
A parallel passage, in Luke 11:37-46, gives us more insight into what Jesus is teaching. A Pharisee who invites Jesus to supper is “astonished” that Jesus did not wash his hands before eating. Jesus once again challenges the ritual of these pious traditions by revealing that their outward actions are hypocritical. They are designed to make them look perfect and obedient but are not indicative of their deceitful heart. Jesus shows that when these traditions become legalistic commands for the people, they lead to oppression. Jesus lambasts the Pharisees when they accused Jesus of not washing his hands saying: “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.”
These two passages have a common theme: it is much easier to unquestioning follow traditions that are self-serving and oppressive than it is to obey God. These actions may look good on the outside but they don’t reveal the troubled nature of the heart. How does this translate to us as Christians today? Perhaps in our worship, or the traditional teachings of the church that have spanned generations, we have failed to stop and ask why we believe what we believe. When what we are generationally taught to believe, our embedded theology, does not produce the fruit of the spirit, causes oppression to those who are disenfranchised or marginalized, or results in division among the brethren, one must be compelled to ask why. Like those ancients of old, are we sincerely honoring God with our lips, but with hearts that are far from God? Are our traditional teachings merely human rules?
Do we believe something and our heart questions? It can be very difficult to break away from traditions that have been foundations of many communities and churches. It can be challenging to dig deep and realize that maybe some theologies were born out of cultural mores or fears. It is a right and good thing to honor our parents and the founding parents of the church. However, through the generations, we have been caught in the bondage of human rules which prevent us from living the abundant life that was promised through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.