Summary: Matthew 15:9. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.


Matthew 14:34-36; Matthew 15:1-9.

It was noised abroad that, of all that ever came to Jesus, He turned none away, ‘and He healed them all’ (cf. Matthew 12:15). It is no wonder that, arriving on the other side of the Lake, Jesus found that His fame had travelled before Him. And as soon as the men of that place had knowledge of Him, “they sent out” messengers, “they brought unto Him the diseased”, “they besought Him”. Some touched Him: “and as many as touched were made perfectly whole” (Matthew 14:34-36).

In these circumstances, the Pharisees chose again not to directly challenge Jesus, but to try to get at Him through His disciples (Matthew 15:1-2; cf. Matthew 12:1-2).

Every branch of society has its own traditions: some good, some bad, and some inconsequential. It does not matter whether it is the pomp and ceremony of monarchy, or the ritual ‘pardon’ of a turkey at Thanksgiving. Some traditions are helpful, and some indifferent. But some also become outdated and run counter to their original intention.

It is evident from the Gospel, that this was what had happened with the traditions that the scribes and Pharisees had built up around God-given Scripture. The traditions were probably started with good intention but ended (in some cases) as a set of rules and regulations impossible for ordinary people to keep. This in turn served to confirm (in their own mind) the supposed superiority of those who taught them.

Coming from Jerusalem, the scribes and Pharisees brought an accusation to Jesus concerning His disciples (Matthew 15:1-2). Jesus exposed their hypocrisy with a counter-question (Matthew 15:3), a counter-argument (Matthew 15:4-6), and a counter accusation (Matthew 15:7-9).

This was not about hygiene, as may at first appear, but about certain outward forms and ceremonies. There were many tedious and unnecessary rules and regulations about ceremonial washing, with meticulous details stipulating which part of the hand should have water poured upon them from which part of the cup at which stage of the procedure. And how they should use the fist in cleansing.

Jesus exposed the hypocrisy of the traditionalism of the scribes and Pharisees by using an example (Matthew 15:4-6). How often, I wonder, does ‘tradition’ twist and misshape the very Word of God in this way? Our Lord reinforced this by quoting Scripture (Matthew 15:7-9; cf. Isaiah 29:13).

What is required in this quotation is not mere lip-service, but worship from the heart (cf. Hebrews 8:10; Psalm 51:17; Romans 2:29; Romans 6:17; Romans 10:9; Ephesians 3:17-19; Proverbs 23:26).

It is possible that, in the pursuit of ‘holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord’ (cf. Hebrews 12:14), we might hedge ourselves in with so many rules and regulations that we become imprisoned, rather than liberated. This occurs not only in the ‘Rule’ of this or that Order, but also in the petty unwritten presumptions that are made within our Christian communities. Let us therefore live by the Word of God rather than by the traditions of men (Matthew 15:9).

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