Mark 7:9-13 (NIV): And he said to them: “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 your mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban’ (that is, a gift devoted to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his 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.”
Traditions in and of themselves are not bad things. They can serve to keep us connected with those who have gone before us, and they can even enrich our understanding of the faith. But any time a tradition or a “supplemental teaching” contradicts the clear words of Scripture, it becomes a positive evil that can corrupt the faith of God’s people, and can even drive a wedge between us and God.
Jesus gave the example of a person who devotes money or other property to God. That sounds very pious and self-sacrificing. However, in some cases it made it impossible for them to uphold one of God’s actual commandments: Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you. (Exodus 20:12 NIV) One important part of obeying this commandment is by ensuring that our parents are adequately taken care of, especially when they are too old or infirm to provide for their own needs. Some would say, “I’d really like to help, but all of the money that I could use to help you I can’t use, because I’ve dedicated it to God as part of a vow.”
Again, that sounds very pious, but it ends with that person actively disobeying a direct commandment in order to keep a commitment to God that He did not ask for. The principle behind Jesus’ condemnation of this kind of “tradition” is that which was given to King Saul by the prophet, Samuel, when Saul failed to completely destroy the Amalekites as God directed, but saved their king alive to parade in front of his subjects, and also saved the best of their animals, ostensibly to be sacrificed to God as a thank offering. The principle is: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22 NIV)
The irony is that these men, these Pharisees and teachers of the law, who so prided themselves on obeying every fine point of the law, were trying to gain additional blessings from God by those extra sacrifices, those additional acts of devotion. But the thing that would have brought them the maximum blessing was simple obedience to God’s clear command. By placing their traditions ahead of what God had commanded, they actually robbed themselves of the very blessings they were trying to earn, and instead actually brought judgment on themselves.
Father, we still have a tendency to do that very thing: to seek Your blessing through extra sacrifices or acts of devotion, while at the same time disobeying Your clear commandments. It is easy to see that simple obedience opens the door to every blessing that You long to give us. We don’t have to “sweeten the pot” with extra promises or acts of devotion. Simple obedience really is better than many sacrifices! Amen.