Preoccupation with a religious tradition can be a way of sheltering from the far-reaching claims of the love of God.
Mark 7:9 “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!”
Jesus is not talking to rank heathens here. He is talking with people whose life mission is to do the will of God and thereby prove that they are God’s people. But Jesus is unequivocal. He says that the Pharisees attention to various traditional observances fails to achieve its aim. He clearly saw their religion as a farce, a swindle. Jesus proceeds to illustrate what he means:
Mark 7:10-11 “Moses said, honour your father and mother … but you say that if a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban, then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother.”
Moses taught that God expected a man to honour his parents, but according to the Pharisees, a man could dedicate his property to God by using a form of words called Corban, and so avoid his responsibility to his parents. By dedicating his assets to the temple, he could place them beyond the reach of his parents needs while still using them for himself.
This was nothing but a consecrated ruse. The Pharisees invoked Numbers 30:1-2 which stipulates that a vow made to the Lord can never be broken. They used the authority of one sacred precept to escape duty in another. By use of that law, they succeeded in breaking the law of God.
Contemporary heirs of Pharisaism also take refuge in the law. They insist on obedience to their particular way of applying it, even when their doing so serves hardship on vulnerable people. Preoccupation with a religious tradition can be a way of sheltering from the far-reaching claims of the love of God.
By their zeal for one of the precepts of the law, the Pharisees made it possible for some to regard themselves as Godly, even though their so-called obedience left their aged parents destitute. Through a species of religious zeal, they outlawed love.
How sacred is my tradition, really? Is my accustomed response to the will of God one that reflects God’s nature, or is it merely a device to shield myself from duty to my neighbour?
May the love of God shine into your heart and mine, driving out useless piety and planting responsibility and compassion.