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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 15:1–9

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ But you say that whoever tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is given to God,’ then that person need not honor the father. So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God. You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said: ‘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.’” (NRSV)

Jesus gives it right back to the Pharisees who have come questioning the practices of his disciples. Their question was a criticism couched in a question. “Why do your disciples ignore the long-standing rules of our faith?” There had been an important practice to follow: a ritual of washing hands before eating. Sounds silly to us, but the ritual was among the many that good religious Jews were to follow. The Pharisees were questioning the faith of Jesus’ disciples.

Jesus’ quick retort aimed right back at the Pharisees indicted them for being more concerned about tradition and rules and regulations than faithfulness to God. He calls them hypocrites, because their concern for tradition overtakes (takes away from) their ability to be faithful to God. This is like worshiping with your lips rather than your heart.

Jesus’ reply makes us think about the integrity of our devotion to God. Do we pay lip service to it? What is tradition for tradition’s sake? When does religious practice become dry or without meaning or purpose? And what is true devotion and faithfulness?

Jesus’ quick retort is something I envy. When someone questions the intentions of one of the groups or individuals in the church with whom I work, I find myself in mother-bear” protective mode. “Why was the Beadle (the person who leads the procession into worship carrying the Bible) or the lay liturgist dressed in a certain way?” for instance. When questions like that come, I wish I could be as quick on my feet as Jesus was. That’s because I usually know the heart of the person being criticized and the impressive sincerity of their devotion to God.

Dear God, please honor my desire to be true in the ways I worship you—not simply with words or religious practices, but with my heart. Amen.

Written by Judith L. Watt, Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care

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