In Mark 7:1-13, the Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.) So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”
Jesus replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”
What a rude way of answering their question about washing their hands before they eat! Actually, their question and accusation wasn’t about washing hands, but following the elders’ traditions. So Jesus is not saying that one should not wash their hands before eating with them. We all mostly wash our hands because our parents ingrained it into us, yes, but our reason is for better health (washing the germs off our hands). The Pharisees and Law teachers didn’t wash their hands for reasons of hygiene, but tradition. Understand too what’s going on. They weren’t just asking out of curiosity, but in an accusative sort of way. Why don’t they wash their hands first? Why don’t they follow the traditions of the elders’? You see?
- Maybe you forgot, but the elders didn’t do a very good job in devoting their lives to God. Also, if you get too caught up in the traditions, you risk losing sight of why you do them. For example, why do so many churches still hold Easter egg hunts? Colored eggs have nothing to do with Easter (the resurrection of Jesus). But yet they continue to hold them for the littlest children. Why? Because it’s tradition…they’ve always done it.
- If you live to follow the Law, you must follow ALL of it…they weren’t.
- Sometimes religious tradition has nothing to do with glorifying God. For example, some churches that I’d served in the past were very strongly submerged in their traditions. So much to where they declared it a sin to not follow along with them. Some congregations had their own traditions every year, but they all had traditions of the order/elements in worship. But among both types, many often hindered worship and giving glory to God. Catholicism is well known for following traditions. But as we all know, not all glorify God, nor are they all Biblical.
Jesus’ point to the Pharisees was, ‘you follow so strictly to your traditions, that you’ve become loose in your theology and service to God.’