He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
‘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.”
Then he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban’ (that is, an offering to God)— then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.” (NRSV)
Throughout the gospels Jesus does not always answer the questions put to him. We find no exception here. The real issue screams louder. Grubby hands are not the heart of this encounter. So, Jesus goes for the jugular: ‘Isaiah prophesied rightly about you…’
And then Jesus adds his own assessment: ‘You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human traditions.’
Tradition can be a wonderful thing. We need cultures and common ways. We need, and we make, interpretations. Not just in faith communities – but on the football field, in the classroom, in the boardroom. From nations to families we find corporate ways to do things. It seems that to be human is to habitually make and – where we see the need – to re-make – tradition.
The problem is we don’t always see clearly. Tradition can completely take over and, all too quickly, we begin to see our way as the only possibility.
So, Jesus fingers their circumnavigation of the call of God. They have reasoned around – and eventually off – God’s life-giving path. They even have a word to comfort those who lose out: ”Corban’ (an offering to God)’. Thus they make ‘…void the word of God through…tradition…’ (7:13). So, Jesus questions the authenticity of their claimed foundations. They are actually serving tradition.
It is quite a gift that Jesus gives here. To see the foundations on which we build can be both painful and priceless. Like the Pharisees and scribes we can be sure we are building on the hard stuff – and then along comes a skillful digger and all is exposed. They just didn’t expect Jesus to dig this deep.
The best diggers see our inconsistencies. A different emphasis, a new angle, fresh considerations can make the blind see. Read these gospels carefully…after all Jesus was a master digger.