Truth Over Tradition


Matthew 15:1-9
1 Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” 3 And He answered and said to them, “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 “For God said, ‘HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER,’ and, ‘HE WHO SPEAKS EVIL OF FATHER OR MOTHER IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH.’ 5 “But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,” 6 he is not to honor his father or his mother.’ And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7 “You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: 8 ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. 9 ‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’ ”

This passage riles me up. As I read it, I want to pump my fist in the air, cheer Jesus for exhorting the Pharisees righteously, and then point my finger at them telling them to wise up and quit being hypocrites. But after all that fades away, there is a chilling silence that follows. As I begin to settle my religious emotions I begin to point that finger inwards and question my own religiosity and hypocrisy. There is a great book I read a few years ago that speaks directly to the issue Jesus is addressing here. The book is called The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking how you read the bible and it addresses our issue of reading scripture and following God through the filters of our upbringing, culture, tradition, and expectations of who we think God should be instead of what the scriptures actually say.


Notice how the Pharisees’ emphasis was placed on tradition rather than truth. To give a little background, at the time of Jesus’ ministry on earth, the Jews had not heard from God in over 400 years. The religious leaders then began instituting their own laws and rules and inadvertently became little gods themselves, lording their righteousness over the people. These rules and traditions had become the standard for holiness, not their connection to God. The example Jesus uses points to this very self-righteousness. The Law states that we should honor our mothers and fathers. The Pharisees, however, had developed a custom of deeming things “holy,” that is, a gift from God, and therefore were required by these new rules and traditions to not give it to anyone because it “belonged to God” and classified as not rightfully theirs to give away. Can you see how quickly these principles of God get twisted? Therefore, as Jesus points out, the Pharisees wouldn’t help others (even their own parents) because they would use this “holy gift clause” to keep all their stuff to themselves and thus violating God’s laws of sacrifice, giving, and caring for others.

Jesus quotes from Isaiah 29, where the prophet is relaying a message from God about how Israel will corrupt itself and falsely honor God for their own gain while in their hearts they are far from Him. Jesus is calling out this passage which His audience very well knew in order to demonstrate that the prophecy was being revealed in this very conversation. Let us then take to heart this exhortation and examine ourselves. Why do we call ourselves Christians? Why do we go to church? Why do we think we are “good people”? Is it because of the scale of the world, the upbringing of our families, the judgment of others? Or, do we genuinely love God and are we motivated to do what we do out of this love for Him? As you can see by the Pharisees’ example, it is very easy for us to slip into a self-righteous attitude and think we are doing the right thing! I love the example of Saul (who became Paul). He thought that by persecuting, arresting, and even killing the new age Christians he was honoring and serving God. God confronted him and told him otherwise and he had a choice to make: do I follow the traditions and values I always have or do I follow God with this new information He has enlightened me with? Let us use Jesus’ words to confront ourselves a little better:

Do you honor God with your lips but in your heart are far away from Him? Do you worship Him in vain and teach the precepts of men as they are the doctrines of God?

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