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Reading: Mark 7: 1-8

Verse 8: “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men”.

Photo credit: Jeremy Perkins

In today’s passage in Mark the Pharisees clash with Jesus. These religious leaders were experts on the Law and sought to live lives steeped in following the Law. Their religion centered more on keeping all of the tenets of the Law and less on worshipping God. The example of this given today in Mark is their excessive hand washing. A good Pharisee would always wash their hands ceremonially before eating. This manmade tradition grew out of the law that required the priest to ceremonially wash before bringing an offering or sacrifice to God. This would be like stopping at every intersection because the law says we must stop at intersections with stop signs. The Pharisees want to apply the human law that they follow to Jesus’ disciples, acting like it is one of God’s laws. The Pharisees are asking Jesus, ‘Why aren’t your disciples like us? Why don’t they follow our rules?’

In most of our churches today we also have similar ‘rules’. Much of the time these rules are unwritten rules that are not Biblical yet we apply them like they are. Some churches, for example, stand for certain parts of worship. If you sit during those times, you might just get a sideways glance or worse. Lots of churches provide nurseries or cry rooms. So ingrained is the idea that children must be quiet in church. I’ve had many moms and dads apologize after church for a crying baby or a noisy child. I always remind them that the sound of young ones in worship is a sign of a healthy church. Yet in many cases the looks received during church prompts these parents to feel like they must apologize. These are relatively minor issues. Much worse are other expectations – you must dress a certain way to fit in here or you should at least appear to have it all together to come and worship with us. Those that dress in a certain way or those who may not live a specific way may feel less than welcomed in our houses of worship. All of these and more are non-Biblical rules that present barriers to knowing God.

Jesus sees right through the pretense of the Pharisees, just as people who feel unwelcome in our churches see through our false religion. Quoting Isaiah 29 Jesus calls them out, stating that their hearts too are far from God. The Pharisees are great at practicing their own religion but are far from worshipping God with their lives. They love their vain rules but fail to love as God loves. Bluntly Jesus says, “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men”. Whenever we elevate or apply our preferences or traditions above the commands of God, we too are straying far from the heart of God. When we choose false or fake religion over true faith, we too have become hypocrites. Instead, may we seek the heart of God and love as God loves. May we know the God of love and mercy and grace and then may we live out God’s will and ways.

Prayer: Lord God, when I am tempted to draw my own lines or to apply how I think things should be, remind me of your way of love. When I begin to judge or show preference to one group or person, remind me that all are beloved children of yours. Amen.

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