And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to 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;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God) —then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” Mark 7:5-13
Tradition. It seems this whole conversation revolves around tradition. The religious leaders are concerned Jesus’ disciples are not following the dietary codes passed down from their Jewish heritage. As Jesus talks with these religious leaders, he turns their attention to an Old Testament prophecy. He uses their own text to point out a value system within their hearts. In this moment, they value tradition over worship – following made-up rules over intimacy.
Whether we realize it or not, we have traditions within today’s church culture too. How we do church becomes a matter of our tradition. Each denomination establishes customary patterns of thought, rituals, and behaviors as they implement unique forms of doing church. Some value regular church attendance, some place high value on “right living” and define themselves by what they do not do, while others value speaking in tongues or the outpouring of signs and wonders. Even churches today can get caught in the trap of valuing tradition and cultural expectations instead of keeping our hearts near to Jesus.
Traditions and rituals are not the end goal. They are more like railroad tracks. They can be helpful to keep us in alignment with the way of Jesus to draw our hearts toward him, but traditions alone are not what keep us connected with Jesus. Closeness with Jesus is a matter of the heart! Jesus invites us to take a deep dive into our hearts today and do a reality check. What is your form of doing church? Are your church traditions helpful for stirring your love and deepening your intimacy with Jesus or have they become an end in and of itself?
By Yvonne Biel