The Commands of God and the Traditions of Men
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?” He 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.” —Mark 7:5-8
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, widely regarded as a 20th century martyr, put to death by the Nazis just before the end of World War 2 because of his faith in Christ, once said, “Jesus calls men, not to a new religion, but to life.” Jesus did not come to this earth to start another religion, but to save the world from religion!
The mission of Christ-less religion is sin management. Christ-less religion is all about helping make bad people better. Jesus is not interested in cosmetic improvements. He did not, in the ultimate demonstration of love, give his life on his cross for a behavior modification program. Jesus came to make spiritually dead people live!
In our keynote passage the Pharisees criticized Jesus’ disciples, and in so doing, they criticized Jesus himself. While it might appear that the Pharisees were primarily concerned because Jesus and his disciples didn’t follow their purity laws—specifically the one that stipulated that before eating, observant Jews must wash not only both hands, but all the way up to the elbow—that was not their real agenda.
They were on Jesus’ case because he didn’t “religiously” follow their religious traditions. The Pharisees felt that their traditions added weight and gravity to the Mosaic Law. The Pharisees called their traditions the “traditions of the elders” because the traditions were accumulated from generations of regulations that religious leaders, in their piety, had determined as helping to make people more holy.