We left Jesus and the disciples at Gennesaret where numerous people were healed.
Matthew 15 begins with Pharisees and scribes who the text says came all the way from Jerusalem (about 60 miles/97 km) to speak with Jesus. And what was so serious that warranted their traveling this far? (see map of ancient Israel here; Gennesaret is up near the Sea of Galilee whereas Jerusalem is to the southwest in the region of Judea)
Oh yes, breaking of tradition.
2"Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!"
In his commentary Wiersbe says this tradition, supposedly given to Moses along with the written Law, was passed down from generation to generation orally. Later it was written and became the Mishnah.
Jesus replied to their statement with a question of his own.
3Jesus replied, "And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?
4For God said, 'Honor your father and mother' and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' 5But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,' 6he is not to 'honor his father' with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition."
Hmmm, I wonder how often I work around the word of God for the sake of tradition. Even traditions that seem righteous and good.
Wiersbe explains these verses, "If a Jew wanted to escape some financial responsibilities, he would declare his goods to be 'Corban - a gift to God.' This meant he was free from other obligations, such as caring for his parents. But in so doing, the person was losing the power of God's Word in his life, and thus hurting his character and missing God's blessing."
Tradition is often more concerned with outward ritual and pleasing men or society. God is more concerned with our hearts and our attitudes toward Him.
How often have you known someone who behaved a certain way not because she was convinced God required it of her, but because society or her parents did? In a sense "tradition" of doing something a certain way has taken precedence over what God wants. How often have I heard this said in relation to certain practices (female circumcision, honor killings, women not able to drive) in North Africa or the Middle East concerning "oh, that's tribal/custom/tradition NOT Islam"? The same can be said for many things, no doubt.
Jesus continued by quoting from the prophet Isaiah.
7You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
8" 'These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
9They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men.'"
Why does God want our hearts and not just our pleasant words and outward deeds and rituals?
"We believe in the heart (Rom. 10:9-10), love from the heart (Matt. 22:37), sing from the heart (Col. 3:16), obey from the heart (Rom. 6:17; Eph. 6:6), and give from the heart (2 Cor. 9:7). No wonder David prayed, 'Create in me a clean heart, O God!' (Ps. 51:10)"
How many of us follow teachings that are merely rules taught by men? God wants our hearts, our devotion, our love. Not our obedience to the rules humans have created.
Share time. Have you ever caught yourself following traditions when you knew they were not things God required of you? Did you catch the irony of trying to please men/society when it wasn't something that necessarily pleased God? Do you think tradition/human rules can go too far or do you think we need more? Do you ever feel they are in place because certain people love to control others and they have power issues? Or do you rather like tradition because it gives you order and you can mentally check off a list and make sure you are doing things properly? Any other thoughts, questions or comments?
quotes from pg. 53 of The Bible Exposition Commentary, Volume 1 by Warren Wiersbe