Jesus 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; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
Jesus’ statement of judgment is not limited to the Pharisees and scribes who came to investigate Him and His disciples in
Jesus quotes the Lord God’s statement of judgment delivered to the leaders of
But such faith is worthless. It is vain, as the Prophet Isaiah declares. It does not receive the salvation which the Lord God must give to people who lack His righteousness. The structure of faith is there, but it remains empty. It lacks what is needed: the all-encompassing trust in what the Lord God does and what He promises. Instead, the structure of faith was filled with inventions and innovations. The people abandoned the Lord God’s way of life for what they thought was good, right, and salutary, even better than what the Lord God had to offer. Isaiah’s audience is condemned for their idolatry and apostasy, their hypocritical way of life.
For the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus’ words of condemnation have the same character as Isaiah’s message. Jesus quotes Isaiah’s words; the error that He condemns is similar to the sin of the
But the issue of what that identity meant and how to maintain it brought the Pharisees and scribes into error. The Gospel writer records the judgment of the Pharisees and scribes about Jesus’ disciples: “They saw that some of His disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. . . . 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?’” They accused Jesus’ disciples of being “defiled,” of forsaking their identity as the Lord God’s holy people. Because Jesus’ disciples ate with unwashed hands, not walking according to the tradition of the elders, the Pharisees and scribes judged that Jesus’ disciples were no longer set apart by the Lord God, but part of the general population. It is this erroneous judgment which Jesus condemns.
The error of the Pharisees’ judgment of Jesus’ disciples is exposed in Jesus’ words: “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men. . . . You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!” Though the Pharisees and scribes had good intentions in establishing their traditions, and man-made traditions can be helpful to the faithful people of God, they had erroneously given their traditions too much credit. They had leapt to the conclusion that adherence to their humanly-established traditions made and kept an individual one of the Lord God’s people. Thus, justification and sanctification—being made and kept righteous and holy—depended upon obeying and trusting the word of man.
Jesus accuses the Pharisees and scribes of a false faith, of “making void the word of God by [their] tradition that [they] have handed down.” Their trust in humanly-devised works for salvation was condemned by Jesus. Such warning needs to be heard by the Lord God’s people, by you. Jesus’ words are meant for His people for all times and in all places. He desires to keep His people reliant on Him and Him alone for salvation, to trust His words and actions, not their own intellect and reason, not their own sensibilities of what is good, right, and salutary. Jesus’ words of life tell how salvation comes to sinners who lack perfection: it is earned by His acts which atone for every sin that is committed; it is delivered and maintained in those who hear and believe His gracious words and works of absolution.
No matter how good the intentions of the Pharisees and scribes were or the intentions of anyone who establishes traditions to follow: when they take the place of what the Lord God had established, they are sinful, “making void the word of God.” Those who have been created by the Lord God, who gives them their identity as His people, must never usurp His place. Isaiah’s prophecy states that in memorable words: “Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel, whose deeds are in the dark, and who say, ‘Who sees us? Who knows us?’ You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, ‘He did not make me’; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’?” That usurpation began with Adam and Eve who desired to be like God, though it was not given to them to be that way. It continues in all their descendants. It is a sin which is found in all, as sinful human beings desire to be their own Law, to be their own head.
But the Lord is clear about the proper relation between His people and Himself. It is submission to the Lord and His will and order. The Apostle Paul writes that way: “Christ is the Head of the Church, His body, and is Himself its Savior. . . . The Church submits to Christ.” It is Christ who made sinners righteous and His own people, not their own actions: “Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” In their proper role, the Church cannot usurp Christ’s role or His authority.
That submission to Christ includes the assent that His will is good and right, that His tradition which He hands down is to be totally accepted by all His creation. It includes submission to the order that He gives to the world He created, including the intended relationship between male and female: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” It includes submission to Christ’s will that salvation comes only through belief in His identity [being the eternal Son of God] and the merits of His works [His perfect life, His sacrificial death, His glorious resurrection] which are delivered in the ways that He instituted [Holy Baptism, the preached Word, the Lord’s Supper, Confession and Absolution].
That submission to Christ also includes the setting aside of human judgment or intellect, while receiving the wisdom that He gives—even when it seems hopelessly out-of-date, culturally irrelevant, illogical, or even foolish. Hear again what the Lord God promised through Isaiah: “Behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.” There will be an establishment of what is truly good by Christ: “In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of
So it has taken place among you through the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of Christ. Christ’s Word has made you hearing and seeing, enlightening your hearts and minds to believe in Him. Christ has given you a new identity by calling you to discipleship. Christ has washed you and made you clean from all guilt, not with a man-made ritual washing, but by His Word included with baptismal water. Christ feeds you with holy food, with His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins, delivered by ministers for you to handle and eat with formerly-defiled hands. Christ gives you words for your lips to worship Him in spirit and truth. These are not “the traditions of the elders,” but what He established.
As these divinely-commanded and ordained traditions are kept, your proper role and identity is maintained. They are what the members of the Church do as they walk according to the way of life laid out by their Heavenly Father and His Son. Honor Him not with your lips only, but with your cleansed and revived bodies. Worship and revere Him according to His commandments, not making void His Word. Constantly listen to His Word which reveals what He has done for you, granting you eternal life. Receive His gifts which are donated, not earned. For by His grace Christ has made you truly clean, setting you apart to be members of His Body, and promising that you will eat together in His eternal wedding feast, pure and undefiled.
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.