And why do you disobey God’s command and follow your own teaching? For God said, ‘Respect your father and your mother,’ and ‘If you curse your father or your mother, you are to be put to death.’ But you teach that if people have something they could use to help their father or mother, but say, ‘This belongs to God,’ they do not need to honor their father. In this way you disregard God’s command, in order to follow your own teaching.
Here is the setup for this scripture: Then some Pharisees and teachers of the Law came from Jerusalem to Jesus and asked him, “Why is it that your disciples disobey the teaching handed down by our ancestors? They don’t wash their hands in the proper way before they eat!”
Sometimes it’s easy to get confused about all of the rules surrounding religious practice. Some of the rules are God’s commands, written down as part of the Law of Moses. Some rules were introduced by the prophets, and they are also God’s commands. Others are rules implemented by religious leaders for the good of the community, but these are not as important. Often we don’t know where all of the rules come from, but Jesus says that we should indeed know.
Rule # 1 – Hand Washing
So, the first rule in question is Jesus’ disciples’ apparent violation of the rule that says they must wash their hands before they eat. This is the rule in question that has started this current argument. Rule of God or Rule of Man? I didn’t know so I had to look it up. Answer: Rule of Man. While it’s now universally recognized as a good idea to wash your hands before you eat, it isn’t one of the 613 Laws of Moses, nor is it mentioned by the prophets. But even today you wouldn’t know it wasn’t one of the original Laws. We used to eat at a Jewish fast food place called the Great Chicago Food & Beverage Company. They describe themselves as a kosher family diner that it is “under strict supervision of Chicago rabbinical council.” In addition to the regular sinks in the bathroom, there is a special designated sink in the main restaurant so that patrons obey the hand washing rule. And they all line up to use that special sink before they eat. Nevertheless it is not in the Torah; it is not a Law.
Rule #2 – Respect Your Parents.
Jesus says that you must respect your parents. Rule of God or Rule of Man? I knew the answer to this one. Answer: Rule of God. What Jesus is referring to is one of the original 10 Commandments: “Respect your father and your mother, so that you may live a long time in the land that I am giving you.” (Exodus 20:12).
Rule #3 – Curse Your Parents and Die
Next, Jesus says that if you curse your parents you must be put to death. Rule of God or Rule of Man? Well, I suspected this was God but I looked it up just to be sure. Answer: Rule of God. Exodus 21:17 says, “Whoever curses his father or his mother is to be put to death.”
Rule #4 – Offering Material Possessions to God
Jesus says that the Pharisees dedicate things to God instead of giving them to their needy parents. Is this a Law of God or Law of Man? I really didn’t know exactly what Jesus was talking about here so I looked up this passage in Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible available at www.studylight.org. Albert Barnes was a 19th century American theologian who was famous for his biblical commentaries. Here are some excerpts from his commentary on this scripture:
The word “corban” is a Hebrew word denoting a gift. Here it means a thing dedicated to the service of God, and therefore not to be appropriated to any other use. The Jews were in the habit of making such dedications. They devoted their property to God for sacred uses, as they pleased. The law required that when a dedication of this kind was made it should be fulfilled. “Vow and pay unto the Lord your God,” Psalm 76:11. See Deuteronomy 23:21. The law of God required that a son should honor his parent; i. e., among other things, that he should provide for his needs when he was old and in distress. Yet the Jewish teachers said that it was more important for a man to dedicate his property to God than to provide for the needs of his parent.
Our Saviour did not mean to condemn the practice of giving to God, or to religious and charitable objects. The law and the gospel equally required this. Jesus commended even a poor widow that gave all her living, Mark 12:44, but he condemned the practice of giving to God where it interfered with our duty to parents and relations; where it was done to get rid of the duty of aiding them; and where it was done out of a malignant and rebellious spirit, with the semblance of piety, to get clear of doing to earthly parents what God required. (http://www.studylight.org/com/bnb/view.cgi?book=mt&chapter=015)
So the Answer: Law of Man. The practice of dedicating animals and other property to God is not a Law and it is not required. So apparently some people were in the practice of dedicating their possessions to God. They could dedicate things to God but continue to use them as long as they offered them to the Temple at some point. In this way they could avoid having to help their parents, even if they were hungry or in desperate need. Both weird and sleazy.
So there are are kinds of conflicting religious rules out there. In this case, Jesus says that you always need to be sure to know whose rules you are obeying. He says you should give God’s Laws more weight than man’s rules. But he also says that if you have to make a choice about what to do with your material possessions, it’s better to give them to someone who needs them than to give them to God. After all, God already has everything he needs. And remember, on Day 114 Jesus reminded us that God wants kindness more than he wants sacrifices. While God should be our highest priority, the best way to show our love for him is to love and help others.
So I guess the moral of this scripture is that if you have to choose between two conflicting rules, choose the one that best demonstrates kindness to others. That is what Jesus recommends because that is what God would want.
What does this scripture say to you?