Jesus says here not that traditions are evil, but that they can become too precious. They can become so precious, in fact, that they make void the word of God. What begins as a good, faithful, and repeated practice can harden into a mandatory legalistic habit that hinders our worship.
However, we can find innumerable examples of good traditions as well, traditions that enhance our experience of God’s goodness and are therefore faithful aids to us in the journey of life.
We must never discard traditions lightly. Instead, we need to evaluate all our traditions with this in mind: Does the tradition serve the purpose of glorifying the work of God, or has it become merely a mechanism by which people are glorified in their strict adherence and enforcement of it?
Jesus goes on to say:
“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.’” (Matthew 15:7–9)
Who is he talking about when he mentions people who honour God with their lips while concealing a heart that is far from him? Who are those who worship in vain, making man-made commandments into doctrines? In the immediate context, of course, he’s talking to the Pharisees.
But just as with other warnings and sayings of Jesus that were issued to religious leaders of the day, we tend not to apply these sayings to ourselves. But we fool ourselves if we think these sayings cannot apply to us.
Full of Fakers
I’ve heard people say that churches are full of fakers, and that is occasionally true. Each one of us has gathered with others for worship at one time or another with a sad heart but an outward smile, with a dark heart and a glowing face. In some assemblies, there is a known but unspoken requirement to make a good show of things when the corporate body is gathered.
And so on some Sundays, we honour God with our lips while our hearts are far from him. He would be more honoured if we confessed and lamented the condition of our hearts and cried out for grace and mercy – even, at times, in front of everyone.
We also don’t think of ourselves as those who “teach as doctrine the commandments of men,” but a quick look at some of the sacred cows (figurative ones, I hope!) in our churches reveals that we sometimes take as absolute what was merely assembled out of certain preferences and points of pride about our history, culture or heritage.
These are not always bad in themselves, but when we raise them to a level of importance equal to doctrine, we are on a dangerous path.
Do you have any favourite traditions that enhance your experience of God’s goodness?
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