This week we are translating chapter 7 of Mark. The religious leaders question Jesus why his disciples did not wash their hands, which broke the “tradition of elders”. It seems that Jesus has little patience for the religious leaders and their traditions. Some could even say that he was ‘intolerant’ towards their belief system.
But, I must always be careful when I read this passage where Jesus throws down the Pharisees, the religious leaders. It is easy to say, “those Pharisees just didn’t get it”, and treat myself exempt from such religiosity. Ironically, in that moment I have placed myself in the same danger of inviting rebuke. But if I was truly honest with myself I am the Pharisee more than I like to admit, no matter how much I want to be David, Daniel, or one of the greats.
Before I begin to challenge traditions I must say that traditions can serve a good purpose. Susan and I love traditions. Every Sunday afternoon we drive out of Northwake’s parking lot to go to Little Caesar’s to pick up the glory of cheap pepperoni pizza. The University of Kentucky has a wonderful tradition of winning and just being awesome. Maybe more universally observed are the various family traditions from one season to another. But like anything on this side of Heaven, anything can become hideous if not rightly devoted.
Here the disciples didn’t wash their hands before they ate. This would give Matt Baker a heart attack. Not because he is a Pharisee but because he has a serious problem with germs. The Pharisees, however, got upset not because of germs but because this was a ceremonial cleaning and to not do so broke their tradition. Their traditions became like a tyrant enslaving everyone to a religious observance that became more and more unbiblical. In essence they were adding more to Scripture and creating more arrogance than love.
This makes me question what traditions I hold as authoritative that cannot be supported by Scripture. How much of my ‘religion’ is still characterized by men from the 16th century? And though many of them did great things for the Church, how many of the traditions that came from that era do I claim to be infallible because that is the way we have always done it? What if Jesus’ disciples were here? Would we ask Jesus why his disciples are not preaching from pulpits?
I think we should evaluate the things we do. How biblical are they and how effective are they in proclaiming the Kingdom of God? Traditions are good until they usurp the supreme place of God’s commands; until they distract us from the Person of Christ instead of no longer pointing us to Him; until they make us irrelevant to the world around us. If that ever be the case the time for plucking the eye has come.