Empty Traditions

Traditions can be beautiful – carrying sentiments and values down generations. However they can also be completely meaningless and even destructive.


Passages: Matt 15:1-20; Mark 7.1-23; Luke 11.37-41; 6.39


Jewish and biblical perspective on handwashing in the Old Testament

Christ’s perspective

Bible Passage

Persistent faith Matt 15:21-28; Mark 7.24-30

Matthew 15:21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

Bible Passage

Matthew 15:5 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ 6 they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

8 “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.

Bible Passage

Matthew 15:9 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’”
10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”


Exodus 30:17–20 requires the priests to wash their hands and feet before offering sacrifices or entering the Tabernacle. According to 1 Kings 7:38, Solomon’s Temple contained ten brazen lavers to allow for this washing.

Jewish Traditions - Ritual Washing

The Jews added more to the requirement of the law. Occasions for hand washing included:

  • Before eating bread
  • After eating bread
  • Before eating dipped fruit or vegetables
  • Before worship
  • Before the Priestly Blessing
  • After sleeping
  • Other occasions

Laws of washing

Laws of washing included:

  • Blessing said before washing
  • Manner of pouring the water
  • Quantity of water

Jewish tradition of washing

Before eating bread

Halakha requires the hands to be washed before eating a meal containing bread. This washing was initially known as mayim rishonim (first waters) but is now commonly known simply as netilat yadayim (hand washing).

This only applies to bread made from one of the five chief grains (wheat, cultivated barley, spelt, wild barley, and oats).The washing is performed by pouring water from a cup over each hand. [1]

Jewish tradition of washing

The Gemarah of the Babylonian Talmud contains homiletic descriptions of the importance of the practice, including an argument that washing before meals is so important that neglecting it is tantamount to unchastity, and risks divine punishment in the form of sudden destruction or poverty.[Rabbinic law requires that travelers go as far as four biblical miles (1 biblical mile is around 4 furlongs or half a mile) to obtain water for washing prior to eating bread if there is a known water source there. [1]

Jewish tradition of washing

This applies only to when the water source lies in one’s direction of travel. However, had he already passed the water source, he is only obligated to backtrack to a distance of one biblical mile.The one exception to this rule is when a man or a party of men are encamped while on a journey, and there is no water to be found in the vicinity of their camp, in which case the Sages of Israel have exempted them from washing their hands prior to breaking bread.[1]

Christ’s perspective

Your elaborations of God’s law

Are often violations of God’s law.

You claim that serving God is an excuse to disobey Him.

Your lips appear to honour God while your heart is far from Him


Christ’s perspective

Superficial speech

empty hearts

wasted rituals

Deceptive teaching

Pharisees’ response

Instead of conviction there was objection and offense

Christ’s response


Don’t let them bother you

Don’t bother with them

They’re going to be plucked out

Along with those they lead who are also blind as they are

They will self destruct

God’s Perspective

When two powerful kings threaten to destroy the Davidic line, here’s God’s perspective:

Isaiah 7:3 Then the Lord said to Isaiah, “Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub,[b] to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Launderer’s Field. Say to him, ‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood—because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah. 

God’s Perspective

When we have Jesus with us, the worst enemies are smouldering stubs in God’s sight.

Isaiah 41:11 Behold, all who rage against you will be ashamed and disgraced; those who contend with you will be reduced to nothing and will perish. 12You will seek them but will not find them. Those who wage war against you will come to nothing. 

God's Promise

Subsequent to God minimizing the danger of the two opposing Kings He reiterates the promise of the Messiah from the Davidic line they were trying to destroy.

Isaiah 7:13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Our response

We fight for so many causes

Revolt at so much injustice.

The only one cause worth fighting for is the cause of the Commission of Christ – to make disciples

In order to do that we need to be worthy disciples

Cleanse our insides of the trash and defilement

Not unduly polish our exteriors.

Then God’s hand will rise in power to fulfil His purposes through us and those around us.


1.What are some good traditions that have turned negative? Elaborate.

2.How can we make something positive out of them and help others to do so.

3.What are occasions our prayers and worship is only physical and not from the heart? How can we change it?


1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handwashing_in_Judaism


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