Traditions which defy God
Most cultures assume that their traditions are a normal way to behave and morally right. They think that what was accepted as being right for their parents must be right for their children. Of course, some of these traditions are right and are parables of righteousness; but others are wrong and wicked. However, challenging a tradition is socially and politically risky, creating both heroes and martyrs, as history as well as the Bible demonstrate. When Jesus challenged the tradition of Corban, He was reaching deep into the hearts of greedy, covetous, mean-minded, dishonourable religious people who despised their obligations to their parents.
Corban was a sort of religious tax-avoidance scheme in the time of Jesus. In those days there was no pension or social security payment for the elderly, other than whatever their offspring could provide. Despite all the love and expensive care lavished by parents on their children, some grown up children did not want to repay the investment. By declaring all their assets to be 'Corban', they effectively put them into a 'trust' that their parents could not touch - by saying that the money was for God (although they declared it to be 'holy money', it was really for whatever purpose they wanted).
Jesus exposed this hypocrisy. He pointed out that 'honouring parents' is not just a verbal nicety, but a practical, physical and financial responsibility (Deuteronomy 5:16). To ignore this duty is to ignore God; they effectively cursed their parents by leaving them uncared for (Ezekiel 22:7) – which attracted the penalty of public stoning (Leviticus 20:9). By placing the Corban tradition above God's Word, they showed how little they thought of God and His command to care for their ageing parents. Paradoxically, if the tradition was 'handed down', it may have been the way their parents had also treated their grandparents – creating a cascade of geriatric misery! Jesus continued His assault on their hypocrisy by exposing similar behaviour in other areas of life.
The ability of self-centred people to avoid their God-given responsibility is breath-taking. In some parts of the world, care of dependent parents can be totally delegated to 'old people's homes' with only the occasional visit. 1 Timothy 5:4 says, "… if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God." In the same way, money for mission, competes with money for me (Acts 5:1-3); our homes get makeovers although the church is still shabby (1 Chronicles 17:1). "And you do many things like that", is a searching condemnation of our ego-centric cultures wherever they are found around the world. The questions have to be asked, 'Does our tradition conform to what God has said is right in His Word?' If the answer is 'Yes', then we should thank God and obey His Word. If the answer is 'No', we should repent and change our lifestyle, whatever it might cost us.
© Dr Paul Adams