2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” 3 Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 5 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ 6 they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
8 “‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
9 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’”
Matthew 15:2-9 (New International Version)
The Value of Tradition
Every culture has its traditions that it follows. In Mexican culture for instance, the breaking of a pinata is used to celebrate a child’s birthday. In American culture, every fourth of July, people shoot off fireworks to celebrate the birth of their country. Even followers of Christ have their traditions like baptism and communion that help them remember the relationship they have with God. Traditions, in themselves, help people remember where they came from and where they are going.
Questions on Traditions
The Jews in Jesus’s time were very keen on their religious traditions. So much so, that they believed that by keeping them they would achieve salvation. So when they saw Jesus’s disciples not ceremonially washing their hands before they ate, they questioned Christ about this.
Following Traditions over God’s Law
Instead of answering their question, Jesus questioned them about why they break the commandments of God for the sake of their traditions. God commanded that both Mother and Father needed be honored by their children, meaning that they ought to be taken care of as they got older. However, the Jews had a tradition that they followed which placed any wealth they had as “devoted to God,” preventing them by supporting their parents with their wealth. On the surface, the tradition seems religious, but in reality, the custom was a tool that the Jews used in order to keep their wealth to themselves; and Jesus knew this.
Traditions not Grounded in God
God does not regard highly the religious traditions that people make for themselves; especially those customs that go against what He commands us to do. That is because these rules that man makes for themselves are not grounded in God but in their own selfishness. The heart of man is always inclined to do what is evil due to the sin that dwells within him. In a previous chapter in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus explains that God desires from us mercy and not sacrifice, which means that we are called not to follow rules, especially man-made ones, but to take God’s Word and apply it in every aspect of life.
Putting Traditions in their Place
So, am I saying that traditions like communion and baptism are not important in one’s faith? I am not saying that at all, but what I am saying is that we must put our traditions in their proper place in regards to how important they are in regards to our faith. Neither baptism or communion can change our hearts or bring us closer to God. They are only symbols which reminds us of who we are in Christ and where we are going in Him.
God’s Will Transforms Us
Only when we, with a willing and obedient heart, follow the Lord’s commands and live by them can our hearts be changed in a way that brings honor to the Almighty. The will of God is hard and difficult to follow, however if we faithfully follow it, we will grow in our faith and reap the benefits of being made more like Christ. That is the goal of every Christian, to be made into the image of the only begotten Son of God, whom the Father is well pleased.
A Choice to Make
Therefore, which way will you follow? Will you obey the “spiritual” traditions which you make for yourselves and believe that you are religious? Or will you submit yourself to the will of God and apply His commands to your life and know for sure that you are being made like Christ? The choice is yours.