Jessica Albritton, NextGen Minister LHBC

Matthew 15:1-9

1Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” 3He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 5But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” 6he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. 7You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

8“‘This people honors me with their lips,

    but their heart is far from me;

9in vain do they worship me,

    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

Growing up I attended a small country church in a south Georgia farming community. Every month we would partake in the Lord Supper. We always knew when it was the Lord’s Supper Sunday because the table would be set up at the front of the room. Juice in little cups, stale crackers in dishes, and a white tablecloth draped over the display. The pastor would get up and welcome the congregation, make the announcements and preach a message. After the response time the deacons would make their way to the front of the church and sit in the first row of pews. Two deacons would get up, take hold of the edges of the tablecloth, lift it off the table, fold it up, and lay it to the side. They would then pass out the elements, the pastor would read scripture, we would eat and drink, pray and it would be over. 

Years went by and it was always done the same way… until we built a new building. The first Sunday in the new building the deacons were setting up the table and couldn’t find the tablecloth. It had been stuck in a storage closet and no one remembered which one. Deacons start scrambling trying to find it with no luck. Finally one spoke up and asked if we could skip the step of the table cloth just this one Sunday. “Our people will understand, it’ll be ok just this one time.” They all agreed and we got ready to start the service. After it was all over the tablecloth was the talk of the church. Where was it, why was it left off… Soon after someone piped up and asked what the significance of the tablecloth was. Members began to go around telling what they believed it represented. It was to show that God’s love covers us, it was symbolic of God’s protection to the believers, it represented purity, and so on and so forth. No one could agree on what the cloth represented but one thing was certain, they were all mad it wasn’t there. Then one of the senior adult men in the church, one that had attended since his birth, spoke up and shocked everyone. “No you’re all wrong. It’s for the flies.” Years prior to the church getting central heat and air the church doors and windows would all be opened during the service in order to get air flowing, but because the church was in a farming community that meant flies, lots and lots of flies. In order to keep flies out of the juice and crackers the pastor threw a sheet over the table. Soon the sheet became a part of the tradition and even 50 years after central heat and air was installed the sheet remained. Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in tradition and not even know why we do it. 

In Matthew 15 Jesus and the Pharisees have a conversation about tradition. The Pharisees came to Jesus asking why the disciples didn’t wash their hands before they ate. Now for the Pharisees the washing of hands had nothing to do with hygiene, instead it was a ritualistic cleansing, something to make them symbolically clean. It was not in the law but had been implemented as a man-made tradition to show their holiness through strict obedience. 

This tradition started off well intended, something to get their heart right for worship but had eventually evolved into a heavy burden, something that was required in order to prove themselves worthy. Over time this man-made tradition had evolved and even taken on a level of holy authority. Some leaders even believed the tradition to be more important than the law itself. To put into perspective, the added rules and regulations of this ritualistic hand washing would take up 60 pages if printed today. Jesus flips the script however and asks the Pharisees, “Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” Jesus goes on to quote Isaiah stating, “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.” The Pharisees had been so caught up in the rules and traditions that it violated their very act of worship. 

What traditions are you holding on to that get in the way of your worship? Are you washing your hands but neglecting your heart? Throw away the tradition and cling to the Lord, 


Heavenly Father, open my eyes to the tablecloths in my life, the traditions I have been following so closely that have violated my very worship of you. Help me to worship you with my whole heart and not just with my actions. Help me not just look the part but be the part. Cleanse my heart and make me whole. In Jesus name, amen!


Hebrews 9:22-22 

Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.