TODAY’S READING: MARK 6-7
“And he said to them, ‘Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.'” – Mark 7:6-8
The Pharisees and the scribes saw that some of Jesus’ disciples did not wash their hands before eating. According to the traditions of the elders, this meant that these disciples of Jesus were unclean. Therefore, the Pharisees and the scribes asked Jesus why some of his disciples did not follow the tradition of the elders and ate with defiled hands.
So, Jesus answered with the words above from Mark 7:6-8. Instead of answering the question directly by addressing why his disciples ate without washing their hands, Jesus answered the question by addressing why the Pharisees and the scribes were even asking the question.
The Pharisees and the scribes asked about eating with unclean hands which defiles you because they only honored God with their lips yet their heart was far from him. The Pharisees and the scribes asked about eating with unclean hands which defiles you because they worshiped God in vain by teaching the commandments of men.
How were the Pharisees and the scribes appearing to follow, honor, and worship God but merely do it with their lips and in vain?
By leaving the commandment of God and holding to their own tradition.
Jesus gives a very specific example. He says that they rejected God’s command to honor their father and mother and that whoever reviled their parents would surely die.
How did they reject these commandments from God?
The Pharisees and the scribes told their parents, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban.” (Mark 7:11) In effect, the Pharisees and the scribes said, “Sorry mom and dad. We have nothing to give you because we have given everything to God.”
But this wasn’t really true.
To say something was corban meant that you had given it as an offering to God and put it in the treasury of the temple. Because it had been given to God, it was not allowed to be used for anything else.
However, who was the beneficiary of the treasury of the temple?
The Pharisees and the scribes.
Therefore, what the Pharisees and the scribes were really doing was claiming that couldn’t honor their parents because they had given everything to God, but they were still maintaining the use of their offerings for themselves. So, the Pharisees honored God with their lips and worshiped him in vain.
I believe there is an irony in the Pharisees and the scribes cry of “Corban” that just Jesus is calling out. Corban, or qorban, is actually a Hebrew word that means offering, gift, oblation. It is used 79 times in the Old Testament, almost exclusively in Leviticus and Numbers where it is translated offering.
Qorban comes from the Hebrew root word qarab, which means to get or come closer, approach, come forward, to step up to. So, a qorban, an offering, was something that was brought near the altar. And, it was meant to symbolize the drawing near of our hearts to God.
Yet, all the while the Pharisees and the scribes were crying “Corban,” honoring God with their lips, their hearts weren’t coming any closer to God. Just like the Pharisees thought external washings would make them clean and undefiled, they thought the external presentation of gifts and offerings to God would bring their hearts close to him.
Luke 11:37-41 says, “While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. And, the Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.”
Why were the Pharisees crying “Corban,” worshiping God in vain by appearing to give him their goods, yet maintaining access to them, so they could not give them to their parents?
Because of their greed.
What should they have done?
Instead of giving offerings of external, material things, they should have given the things that are within, specifically love. And, if we give love from within, then our material things will follow.
The Pharisees and the scribes knew that Moses said “Honor your father and your mother,” (exodus 20:12) and “Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die” (Exodus 21:17).
Why were the Pharisees and the scribes to obey the commandment of Moses to honor their father and mother?
Jesus said that the two greatest commandments were to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself. In fact, everything in the law and the prophets hung upon, came out of, these two commandments. (Matthew 22:37-40) So, when he was asked what good deed needed to be done to have eternal life, Jesus first answered, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthews 19:18-19)
The Pharisees and the scribes were to honor their father and mother because to do so was to fulfill Jesus, and God’s, command to love your neighbor as yourself. So, they rejected the command to honor father and mother by failing to love their parents as themselves. They did so by keeping their possessions for themselves.
But, what about the commandment “Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die?”
How were the Pharisees and scribes rejecting this command?
First, we must understand that this command is not saying that God will kill those who do not honor their father or mother. Nor, is Jesus saying that those who do not honor their father and mother should be stoned to death.
A more literal translation of this commandment might say, “Whoever reviles father or mother will die the death.” Indeed, in the Hebrew of Exodus 21:17, the wording is the same as what God spoke to Adam. That if Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he would die the death.
Therefore, second, we should understand this commandment as a warning. If we revile, curse, fail to honor, our parents, then we are going to die.
Not because God is going to strike us down. But, because failing to live by love brings death to our hearts. God is love. God is life. And, where there is no love there is no life, only separation and death.
And, if we don’t love our brother, our parents, then we don’t love God. As 1 John 4:21 says, “And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
If this commandment isn’t about stoning someone, putting them to death, for breaking the command, then how were the Pharisees and the scribes rejecting it?
They rejected it by believing that it did not apply. They rejected it by believing they could live without loving. They rejected it by believing that without loving they could go on living.
So, Jesus says that by holding to our traditions, observing what we have been taught by men, we are “making void the word of God.” (Mark 7:13)
Holding to traditions and observing what we have been taught by men keeps us focused on the external, the washing of hands and the material gifts to the Lord, instead of allowing Jesus to create in us a new heart from which we give love to God and our brother.
Traditions make void the word of God.
The Greek word for make void is akyroo. The Greek prefix a means without. The root word is kyrios, which means authority or power. So, akyroo means without power or authority. Kyrios is also the Greek word that is translated Lord in reference to Jesus hundreds of times in the New Testament. So, making void is to make something without power, without authority, even without the Lord.
What is being made without power, without authority?
The word, the logos, of God.
When we hold to traditions and observe them, we negate the power and the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, in our hearts. By holding to traditions, by failing to examine what we have been taught by other men, we strip the Lord Jesus of his power to change our hearts. We quench the Spirit from doing is work in us and fail to understand the book he is writing on our hearts.
Why do I say we fail to read the book the Spirit is writing on our hearts because of traditions that we keep?
Jesus quoted Isaiah 29:13 in Mark 7:6-8 in response to the Pharisees and the scribes question about washing hands. But, Isaiah 29:11-12 says, “And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, ‘Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, ‘Read this,’ he says, ‘I cannot read.'”
You can’t read the book either because it is sealed or you cannot read because you draw near with your, honoring God with your lips, keeping your heart far from him, worshiping him in vain.
Examine your traditions very, very carefully. Do not hold any of them so dear that the you cannot read what the Spirit is writing on your heart. For, observing your traditions just might negate the power and authority of Jesus, the Lord, the Word of God, in your life.