Matthew 15:3-9 (NIV) Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and 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 a gift devoted to God,’ he is not to ‘honor his father’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’
One of the problems with man-made traditions about God is that they can rather quickly take the place of what God has actually said, modifying it, or even negating it entirely. This easily happens when answers are given to reasonable theological questions using human logic instead of painstakingly searching the Scriptures to see what God has commanded, or all that He has said on the subject.
In this case, the rabbis had determined that pledges of money or property to God had to be kept, regardless of the circumstances. Even if a parent landed in hard times and needed a child’s help, that child could look at the resources on hand and say, “No. I know I have this money, but I have devoted it to God, so I can’t help you with it.” The issue was not about gifts already given to God, but about resources still in the possession of the person who had been asked for help.
In this scenario, one could see a real conflict. Does the person keep his commitment to God, or does He obey God’s command to honor his parents who are in desperate need? In answering this question, the rabbis taught that a commitment to God overrode a person’s obligation to anyone else, including one’s parents
But Jesus Himself held a different view that was based on a clear reading of what the Scriptures actually said. First of all, it was never a requirement for anyone to pledge money or property to God. There is no command to do that anywhere in Scripture. Many were doing it in Jesus’ day, not out of devotion to God, but to shelter the property from others who might want or need it. Thus a pledge or oath to God was being wrongly used, and then manipulated to the benefit of the one making the pledge.
Second, honoring one’s parents was an actually command, and no process or tradition should ever have been put into place that made people feel okay about not obeying that command. Any conflict between God’s commands and the traditions of people must always come down on the side of God’s clear commands, no matter what theological reasoning is used to make it come out some other way.
In many ways, it was the extra rules and traditions of the elders that had been enshrined and canonized by the Pharisees and teachers of the law that got between them and God, and that prevented them from recognizing Jesus for who He really was. In their effort to keep their religion pure, they began to worship the protective walls that they had erected around God’s laws, instead of simply obeying what He had commanded.
Father, we still have a boatload of traditions and theological positions that run counter to Your clear commands and clear words. And when we have a question, it is remarkably easy to end up giving equal weight to our additions to and interpretations of what You have passed down to us in the Scriptures. Help us, Lord, to take You at Your word, and to never let our traditions override Your word. Amen.