Commands and Traditions

Mark 7: 1-13
Gen 1: 20—2:4a / Psa 8:4-9

They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’
(Mark 7:7)

Not by following tradition
But by the renewal of my mind
Teach me, Lord, to make the distinction
So that Your Will I may always find.

The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of His disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.) So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” And He continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” (Mark 7: 1-13)


The Pharisees and scribes believed that submitting to the tradition of their elders in performing certain rituals and following man-made laws handed down through the generations set them apart as the “chosen people of God”. Jesus pointed out to them that their human rules and traditions had in fact only set them far apart from the real form of worship, which is adoring God from the heart, and loving others as the genuine manifestation of that adoration. Their man-made laws were as empty and lifeless as the chaff threshed from the grain.

Ever since the time of the prophet Isaiah, as Jesus mentioned, up to the present time, there has always been this tension between obedience to the laws of God and the long held tradition of following rites prescribed by religious authorities as the proper form of worship. For instance, in some religions (not accepted as Christian), certain foods are forbidden (such as pork, fish without scales, ect.), even though our Lord was clear on this: “It is not what enters one’s mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of his mouth that defiles him” (Mt.15:11) In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul admonished: “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Rom 12:1). He also said, “Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind so that you may discern the will of God – what is good, pleasing and perfect” (Rom 12:2). The key word then is “discernment”, because not all traditions are erroneous, like our long held belief in the infallilble doctrines of the Catholic Church. By the renewal of our minds, we can also be properly guided against “deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental powers of this world rather than on Christ” (Col.2:8). Scriptures are inspired by the Holy Spirit. Our knowledge will increase and our faith fortified if we are faithful in reading the Bible.

Guide us, Father in observing all Your commandments as handed down to us through our Church and the Holy Scriptures. Grant us the wisdom to discern what is true and pleasing to You in all our forms of worship, and in all our dealings with our fellowmen. We humbly acknowledge our weaknesses, and seek Your help in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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