Let me just come clean right at the top. I love traditions. Family traditions, seasonal traditions, sports traditions, local traditions, national traditions, church traditions…I love traditions. I’m not even sure exactly what it is that appeals to me, for example, about the pageantry of the opening day of baseball season. What I know is that it all points to something bigger, rooting the present day firmly in the context of history.
Most traditions do the same thing to some extent, causing us to remember and to value what has been, but as Jesus points out to the Pharisees, danger is always lurking when tradition gets elevated too highly. Traditions are beautiful because they point to something bigger, but what happens when they only point to themselves? What happens, for example, when the traditions around a family gathering become so inflexible that relationships are endangered and fellowship is broken? Do those traditions continue to point to the importance of family?
Jesus wasn’t talking to the Pharisees about which family member should host the next holiday gathering, but His challenge to them is a warning to us. They would rather have people break the law of God than break with their manmade tradition. Perhaps that tradition began as a way to honor God, but Jesus’ assessment is that they were honoring God with their lips but not with their hearts. As a result, their worship was in vain. Their tradition didn’t point to anything beyond itself. So, Jesus calls us to keep a close watch on our hearts, to remember why we do what we do. Where do our traditions point? What do our words and our actions reveal? May it be to a heart that honors God.