Tripping over Tradition

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, ‘Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.’ He answered them, ‘And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, “Honor your father and your mother,” and, “Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.” But you say, “If anyone tells his father or his mother, ‘What you would have gained from me is given to God,’ he need not honor his father.” So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

“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.”’

And he called the people to him and said to them, ‘Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.’ Then the disciples came and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?’” Matthew 15:1-12

There is some internal human resistance to yielding to and choosing God’s way over our own. Something appealing to our flesh about buttoning our perfect uniforms and making and following our own rules, checking them off like savory bites of satisfaction. Something that chafes when we are corrected, when our way is judged as wrong or insufficient. Every time we esteem ourselves and elevate our prescriptions, we diminish the importance of God’s word, His will in our daily living.

The Pharisees were a “righteous” bunch, sticking to their regulations with exactness and fervor, yet they tripped into the trap of paying homage to tradition as king, neglecting God’s higher rule and its intent. Jesus called them on it, and they got offended- ‘how dare our righteousness be criticized?’

It’s hard to give up what we want to do. It is hard to give up self-imposed regulations we follow to make us feel good, proficient, worthy of esteem. But Jesus presents a whole different way of thinking and behaving that turns our patterns and performance upside down. He offers a higher way of thinking altogether. The holy commands of God are designed to exalt God, to teach us a high view of Him, to develop reverence for His otherness, but tradition elevates man and minimizes God by placing in our control the determining and the doing. When our life is hid with Christ in God, we esteem Him. When our days are a regimen of rules and traditions we design, we stumble in the tussle and self-focus and dismiss, or forget, our higher purpose altogether. (Colossians 3:1-4)

Where have I replaced surrender to my Sovereign with performance that I determine? Are there traditions of appearance and behavior in which I find worth and identity apart from conformity to His character? Where have I tripped into self-righteousness over the freedom of standing in Christ’s righteousness? (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Holy Sovereign, transform every bent to self-rule and man-made tradition into holy desire for conformity to You. May You alone be exalted in me. (Romans 8:29)



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