Not long after we were married, Janice noticed that I unplugged the toaster immediately after I was done using it. It was a routine I really wasn’t aware of, and at the time I was unable to come up with a reason for why I did it. My wife is the kind of person to give you the benefit of the doubt though so not long after that, she starting doing the same thing whenever she made toast.
We were talking about this not too long ago and I remembered why I unplugged the toaster. When I was growing up, we had a toaster fire at our house. It was one morning before school and my dad was making toast. The next thing we knew there were these flames were shooting out of the toaster. As kids we thought this was great—breakfast with special effects! Dad didn’t share our enthusiasm so after a new toaster was purchased, we were instructed to unplug it immediately after we were done.
As it turns out, he was right. I went online and found a fire department, a site called Consumer Affairs and a company that makes toasters and they all recommended unplugging your toaster when not in use. Score one for routines.
My hunch is that most of us have a lot more routines than we are aware of. We have a routine for the week and a routine for the weekend. As soon as our children are old enough, we teach them routines—brushing their teeth, getting dressed, making their bed, going to school, etc. We do this because routines provide us with structure and help us to be a meaningful specific rather than a wandering generality.
Nonetheless, it’s a good thing to keep our finger on the pulse of our routines and examine them every so often to see if they’re still helpful and to make sure they haven’t become harmful in some way. Jogging around the neighborhood might be a good routine at thirty, but when you’re over fifty you probably need to replace it with something a little stressful on your joints.
From a spiritual point of view, traditions are religious routines. And the same principles apply to them that apply to our non-religious routines. In Mark 7, Jesus addresses some people whose traditions had grown so out of control they had become the equivalent of a spiritual cancer. One tradition involved an excessive amount of ritual washings. This had its origins in laws God had given through Moses 1,500 years before but by the time of Jesus, these washings had been expanded to so many things that quite a few people were convinced that being right with God was solely an external matter. As long as they performed the prescribed washings they would be okay—even if their heart was a thousand miles away from God. Jesus exposes the folly and danger of this in v. 14-23.
Speaking of their hearts, they had also come up with a tradition that enabled them to put a religious face on their greed. They put whatever excess money they had into a fund labeled “Corban” (i.e., given to God). This way, whenever the opportunity to help others (including their parents) arose, they could sigh deeply and say how much they wanted to help but all of their extra money was “given to God.” It was the best of both worlds—they could be covetous while at the same time maintaining the appearance of piousness. This was religion at its worst and Christ is unsparing in His condemnation of it (v. 7-13).
Chances are our traditions, whatever they might be, aren’t in the same category as these. Still, we would do well to look at them in light of God’s word to determine the measure of their health, helpfulness and honor they bring to Him. You might be surprised by what what you find . . .