When traditions become transgressions


Matthew 15:3 “And He answered and said to them, ‘Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?’”

Traditions can be a wonderful inheritance! Over the years families as well as religious groups have held to certain customs to remind them of important things. But a problem occurs when the active reminder overtakes its purpose. This is when traditions become transgressions.

As a young girl I was fortunate enough to have parents who took me to Sunday School on a regular basis. I remember sitting in the tiny wooden chairs decked out in my frilly dress and Mary Jane patent leather shoes just soaking in all of the songs and lessons shared by my teachers. Like a little chick gulping down a worm I was thrilled to digest the stories of Jesus, and I never wanted to miss a Sunday.

At the end of December the whole congregation attended our annual award service where all of the children who had perfect attendance would receive a prize. Year after year when I heard my name called I would stand straight and tall, and approach the front to be handed a special charm with the date imprinted in gold.

These special trinkets hung on a pin to be worn on a child’s shirt or dress, and the more awards a person had the longer the chain of charms grew. I loved to hear the tinkle of the pieces when I wore this badge of honor. But unfortunately I became proud of my stellar attention to the Lord’s Day – after all I was obeying the command to keep the Sabbath day holy!

While regular attendance with a group of committed Christians fosters growth and provides accountability I fear that many of us have gotten bogged down in our important traditions just to get the prize of others praise. Pride starts to become an issue when our traditions override their purpose and we think of ourselves more highly than we ought.

And what if our desire to perform our traditions interfere with God’s calling to serve another? What if we ignore a hurting person’s need on the Lord’s Day in order to keep our perfect attendance?

This is just what the religious leaders of Jesus’ day did! Some of the Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus and accused His disciples of breaking the tradition of the elders because they did not wash their hands before eating. Instead of responding to this accusation immediately, Jesus instead pointed out their own tradition problem.

These self-centered men, desiring to have attention and praise, side-stepped their familial responsibilities saying that any money set aside for their elderly parent’s care would instead be given to God. At first glance, this may have sounded spiritual and worthy, but in reality these dispassionate leaders were transgressing God’s commandment to honor their father and their mother, and Jesus called them out on it!

Quoting the prophet Isaiah, He said, “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”

Returning, then, to the original accusation, Jesus told the listening crowds that what enters into a person’s mouth is not what defiles a man. But what comes out of the mouth revealing the sinful intentions and attitudes of the heart is what truly defiles.

I still have my special pin and all the charms sitting in a box in my dresser drawer, but I haven’t looked at it in a while. I am still glad I attended Sunday School regularly as a child where I learned about Jesus and His loving ways, but my true prize is a reminder that the heart attitude is what really matters. When we set aside this important truth, that’s when we are at risk of our traditions becoming transgressions.



Sandra Sheridan is a midwest wife and mother of five. She shares her letters to her children with our readers. Visit her at www.VersesFromMama.com.

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