Sunday School Lessons


Commentary by Walter Albritton


March 30


Our traditions must yield to the greater wisdom of Jesus


Mark 7:1-23

Key Verse: From within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders.

--Mark 7:21


            Traditions may be helpful. They are also dangerous. The danger is that we may begin to worship our traditions, instead of God, when God alone is worthy of our worship.

            Take music, for example. We may prefer a certain type of music and begin to believe that only “our kind” of music truly honors God. The music, then, can become more important than the worship of God.

            We may prefer a certain order of worship, which includes elements that we believe must always be included. If the Doxology, for example, is omitted, then we are unhappy.

            Such attitudes toward traditions can lead to ugly self-righteousness. When this happens, we find ourselves paying mere “lip service” to God rather than obeying him with our whole hearts.

            The acid test of our traditions is this: Do they conflict with the teachings of our Lord Jesus? When they do, we need to throw them out and put our focus on obeying Jesus.

            The Pharisees had perfected the art of burdening people with traditions and regulations. They insisted on ceremonial hand washing before meals. Eating with unwashed hands caused a person to become defiled spiritually, the result being “unclean” hands.

            Eating from an unwashed cup, with unwashed hands, was, to them, an offense to God. To the strict Jews, those who did so were no better than the despised Gentiles.

            Some foods were clean; others were unclean. Admittedly, some of these rules about food came from the Old Testament. However, Jesus overrules some of those rules. Therefore, what matters to us as Christians is what Jesus teaches, not what regulations one may find in Leviticus.

            Jesus teaches us that defilement results not from what foods we eat, but from what attitudes we harbor in our hearts. In Mark 7:19 Jesus tells us that all foods are clean. He makes it clear that it is not what goes in a person, but what comes out of a person, that “defiles” the individual. Evil thoughts, ideas, attitudes, and actions come out of an evil heart.

            Hypocrisy in the heart, for instance, is a far greater concern to Jesus than clean hands and clean foods. What is offensive to God is for us to “honor” him with our lips when we do not love him with all our hearts. He desires that we honor him with our lives and our lips.

            Jesus would have us ask him to cleanse and purify our hearts instead of fussing and discussing issues of hand washing and unclean foods. We can observe with profit that he gave us no beatitude that says, “Blessed are they who wash their hands.” He did, on the other hand, say:

            “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).

            When it comes to our traditions, no matter how much we may treasure them, we had better not allow them to become more important to us than obeying Jesus. We shall be wise to embrace the spirit John Sammis expressed in the old gospel song, “Trust and Obey”: “what he says we will do.” + + + +