Updated: Dec 31, 2020
We all have routines and traditions. It may be something as simple as brushing our teeth in the morning. Even this simple task is a tradition, a habit. One of the patterns I enjoy is waking up early and spending some time in Bible reading and prayer. I cannot concentrate with a lot of noise and commotion going on in the background. My wife is quite the opposite. There can be any number of things happening around her, all types of noise, three or four conversations happening simultaneously, and she is unfazed. She can maintain her focus on what she is doing. Not me! In our home, it seems there is always commotion and noise. Admittedly, I may complain that there is too much noise in a museum, so the quiet morning is a precious time to me.
In Mark 7, Jesus is questioned about traditions. Some of the Pharisees and scribes ask Jesus a question. His disciples are eating with unwashed hands, and this raises questions for some. The disciples of Jesus did not specially wash their hands before eating, which is not in keeping with the traditions.
At first, we may read this and think, "What's the big deal?" I am sure we have all been in a hurry at some point and have not washed our hands before we eat. However, as we see in Mark 7, the problem is not that they failed to wash their hands. Jesus identifies some have elevated their traditions above the word of God, or at least they have made their practices equal to the commands of God.
The Tradition of the Elders
In (Mark 7:5), the Pharisees and some scribes asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with unwashed hands?" The Pharisees and scribes do not directly accuse Jesus of breaking the elders' traditions. They accuse His disciples. In a round-about way, though, they are charging and questioning Jesus. After all, if the teacher is not teaching His disciples to keep the elders' oral traditions, what kind of teacher is He?
These traditions were not laws found in the Law of Moses, but they were traditions that had been passed down from generation to generation. They held a place of importance in the lives of the Jews. We read of such practices in (Mark 7: 3-4), "For the Pharisees and all the Jews don't eat unless they wash their hands and forearms, holding to the tradition of the elders. They don't eat when they come from the marketplace unless they bathe themselves, and there are many other things, which they have received to hold to: washings of cups, pitchers, bronze vessels, and couches."
Each of the things listed in the verses above were things seen as making a person unclean. Today we wash our hands before we eat because we know about germs, viruses, and bacteria. The tradition of washing was not because of germs. They washed in a "special way," keeping the traditions of the elders. They saw themselves as impure or defiled. Ceremonial washing was for this purpose.
Are All Traditions Bad?
Today, some have the perception that all traditions are wrong or that they are old-fashioned. To a large extent, our culture wants to cast off traditions. Are all traditions bad, and should they be cast off? We may not consider it much today, but traditions and habits surround our lives. As I mentioned, something as simple as brushing our teeth can be a habit or practice. This habit or tradition is not one that I would suggest is a bad one. Daily Bible reading is also a tradition that is good.
Traditions can be comforting. In some cases, it's nice to know what is going to happen next. It's good to know there are things in our lives on which we can depend. Traditions can be associated with good memories, memories of loved ones. They can also help us remember important times and events. Not all traditions are bad.
Jesus is not condemning all traditions. He is condemning practices elevated above God's Word. In the gospel of Matthew, the parallel account of this conversation is recorded. Jesus says, "Why do you also disobey the commandment of God because of your tradition?" (Matthew 15:3). It would seem the Pharisees were more concerned with their appearance than they were the commands of God.
To say that Jesus used strong words with those who accused Him would be an understatement.
" He answered them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. But they worship me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. “For you set aside the commandment of God, and hold tightly to the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and you do many other such things.”
Jesus said they were putting on a mask, pretending to be something they were not. They had set aside the word of God for the sake of keeping their traditions. Their hearts were far from God.
How About Us?
Is our heart connected to our actions? When our lives, or traditions, reflect something other than our hearts' desire, this is being hypocritical. The importance to Jesus is that our actions and our practices reflect the real attitude of our hearts.
Traditions and habits can either be good or bad. They can draw us closer to the Lord, or they can push us away from Him. As Christians, we should desire to please the Lord in our lives. Our traditions and habits should reflect this desire.
Scripture quoted from the World English Bible. The World English Bible is in the Public Domain.