Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
7 in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” – Mark 7:1-13
Silly and irreverent, but at least he was honest. W.C. Fields was not known for being a religious man. According to one account of Fields’ life, “No man ever worked so patiently at wrecking his soul and body as did this prince of comedians. A Mississippi of gin sluiced through him in his declining years. But toward the end of his life he was discovered in his garden with a Holy Bible and a martini. His nephew asked, “What are you doing?” Fields is famously to have answered, “Looking for loopholes.” He didn’t want to give up his wayward ways for the sake of God or religion of any sort.
It’s sad that some of the most religious people in Jesus’ day and even today, spend so much energy looking for loopholes. The Pharisees found ways to overlook and reject the Word of God in order to establish their traditions. That’s easy to see when Jesus calls them out for not caring for their parents because that which could have provided for their good was devoted to God.
Too often we see people justifying abhorrent behavior by claiming that God is loving to all, and saying we must not judge. On the other hand, we hear vicious words of judgment against those who truly do need forgiveness, spoken by those who would never think to admit that they, too, need forgiveness for their very real sins.
Whether it’s the Black Lives Matter or Back the Blue, The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, or the Roman Catholic Church, we all have our failures and foibles, our sins and iniquities. We all need the forgiveness of Jesus. “There is no one righteous. No not one” (Romans 3:10). Self-righteousness never befits a follower of Jesus. Nor does a commitment to passing worldly mores rather than to God’s word to determine what is good or evil. The traditions we should all follow are to listen with humility to Jesus’ word, to refuse to look for loopholes, to live in humility and love toward God and neighbor, and to rejoice in Jesus’ goodness and grace.