“He said to them, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’ You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
Do you have a favorite family tradition? Many times, especially during the holiday season - usually from Thanksgiving through New Year’s celebrations — families and friends enjoy things that have been passed down from generation to generation, or that have been enjoyed for some time. For many of us, traditions may involve activities or certain types of food. In our area, Scandinavian or German food favorites are often claimed as “traditions,” and they are wonderful! Think of how well certain items go over at holiday bake sales!
Jesus mentions human tradition here in the Gospel of Mark. He cites the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, and then tells those listening to him that they abandon God but hold to human traditions. He didn’t say that the traditions were bad; he said that we often use the traditions to reject what God teaches. We like holding to our traditions, but sometimes, we want to become the actors in salvation when claiming human precepts, human teachings, human traditions, as lifting up something of ours to God. We might like to think that we are making God happy with what we do!
Mark’s gospel tells us that Jesus said it is not the external actions that defile, rather it is the failure of our hearts. We cannot change the desires of our hearts, wanting to make salvation about our actions. It is not what we do; rather it is what God creates in us through Christ: a clean heart. We hear God’s word of promise that he is the one doing the acting: that he will not remove his Spirit; that he will forgive; that he gives to us eternal life through Christ, not through what we do or not do. We then sing, as David did in his psalm: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”