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Lenten Devotion

March 13, 2023

All Day

Mark 7:1-12

7The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2 and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3(The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4When 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.) 5So 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?” 6He 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. 7They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules. 8You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” 9And He continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother’, and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 11But 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) — 12then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother.

Tradition or Reality?

I am a creature of habit. Every morning, I drink a cup of coffee before I run off to catch the train. On the commute to work I read my devotional, eat a small breakfast, listen to worship music, and pray. I meet with my home group on Tuesday evenings, play volleyball with friends on Wednesdays, and go to church on Sundays.

Building habits has had a positive impact on my life. They give me routine and structure, especially with the things that I would otherwise easily neglect or forget about. These habits have helped me to keep up with healthy activities such as reading the Bible, prayer, fellowship, sports, and maintaining a somewhat balanced diet.

But besides the benefits of building a habit, we need to review the motive behind it. There have been numerous times when I had to ask myself: Why am I doing this? Why have I been doing it for so long? Am I doing it because it is good for me, or has it just become a habit? Does God approve of it? What does the Bible say about it?

When the Pharisees confronted Jesus in Mark 7:5 and accused his disciples of not following the traditions of the elders, he looked into their hearts and recognized their motives. He saw that they did not want to maintain the habit of cleanliness to please God or to help the disciples become better people. It came merely from a position of pride, superiority, comfort, and because they were used to it. The Pharisees thought that just by following the traditions they were closer to God and better than anyone else.

Finally, in verses 6-12 Jesus called the Pharisees out on their hypocrisy by citing Isaiah 29:13. He held up a mirror to them and hit them with the reality that God despised their motives and their ignorance. They had clung to traditions, which were based on a vague interpretation of some parts of Scripture, while ignoring a very explicit commandment from God. Moreover, they did it under the pretense of sacrifice or offering to God, which is the definition of “Corban” according to the Merriam Webster dictionary.

Sadly, even centuries later Christian leaders have been down the same path as the Pharisees and have issued letters of indulgence, in which they sold forgiveness of sins for their own benefit and against the truths written in the Bible. It is an extreme example, but it shows how often we can be wrong about what we think is right – and how that is even harder for us to admit. In the case of the Pharisees it required an outside view (from Jesus) and a deeper look into God’s Word to receive the right understanding.

As we start this day, I would like to encourage you to reflect on your habits. Maybe even discuss them with your pastor, home group, family, a close friend, or someone at church. It is a task we should do prayerfully, humbly, and repeatedly.

Prayer: Dear God, I thank you for the truths and forgiveness you have offered us. Help me not to choose pride and empty traditions over your Word. May you show me the areas of my life where I should make amends. Help me to reflect your truths to the people around me in a loving and Christlike way. Father, may this season of Lent be spiritually nourishing to us and the people around us.  Amen.

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