And he said to them: "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! Mark 7:9 NIV
We have many traditions in our house. They're woven into the fabric of our family. Our traditions are part of what makes us....us. Yesterday was my youngest son's 14th birthday. According to our family's tradition, his gifts were wrapped in brightly colored paper, arranged on the buffet in the dining room when he woke up. And, according to our custom, the birthday boy chose what we would have for dinner and the kind of cake and ice cream we would serve. Last night, after dinner, we lit the candles on the cake and sang an off-key rendition of Happy Birthday. We're a very musical family, but it's more fun to sing badly! Next, everyone ran outside for the traditional Silly String firing squad. A guest, singled out by the birthday person, is given a hockey mask, and told not to run away while 7 or 8 people shoot him with entire cans of Silly String. (Sorry, Cameron) The resulting mess looks like....clown barf? Tradition!
Traditions can add meaning, purpose, and joy to our lives. But is tradition always a good thing? In this verse from Mark's gospel, Jesus tells the religious leaders of the day that honoring their traditions above God's law had caused them to do the ritual things, and abandon the right things. They washed their hands with great pomp and ceremony, but failed to honor their parents as God had commanded. Somehow, along the way, their traditions stopped being a way to worship, and became the object of their worship.
"Well, that was a long time ago", you say. "We don't do that in modern times." Oh, really? Can our places of worship become the object of worship? I once attended a church that refused to allow snacks and drinks to be served in the children's areas, fearing the new carpet would be damaged. Preschoolers were expected to stay in those rooms during Sunday service for over 2 1/2 hours without drinks or snacks, so the building could be preserved! Buildings created for the worship of God had become more important than worship itself! I'm pretty sure God was more interested in the hearts of those children than the halls of the building. Do we care more about spotless hearts than spotless floors? Is feeding the hungry more important than our pot luck fellowships? Do we care more about obeying God's commands than preserving our traditions? In the words of Matt Casper in Jim and Casper Go to Church, "Is this what Jesus told you guys to do?" Maybe that question is a good litmus test for evaluating our lives and our ministries.
Prayer for today: Father, help us to always exalt your word above our traditions. May our plans, programs and pursuits accomplish Your plans and not our own. In Jesus Name, Amen.