For the sake of tradition

November 8, 2012

Dear brothers and sisters,

We are back in Matthew today where I am taking the good news from 15:1-9.

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They do not wash [their] hands when they eat a meal.” He said to them in reply, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Whoever curses father or mother shall die.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to father or mother, “Any support you might have had from me is dedicated to God,” need not honor his father.’ You have nullified the word of God for the sake of your tradition. Hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy about you when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.'”

Barclay believes that this passage “is one of the most important passages in the whole gospel story.” Really? That caused me to stop and reread this several times. He goes on, “It represents a head-on clash between Jesus and the leaders of orthodox Jewish religion….[F]or the basic importance of this passage is that it is not so much a clash between Jesus and the Pharisees in a personal way; it is something far more — it is the collision of two views of religion and two view of the demands of God. Nor was there any possibility of a compromise, or even a working agreement, between these two views of religion….To the Scribes and Pharisees worship was ritual, ceremony law; to Jesus worship was the clean heart and the loving life….Religion can never be founded on any ceremonies or ritual; religion must always be founded on personal relationships between man and man.”

That’s what Jesus meant when he answered the Pharisees in chapter 22 that the greatest and first commandment was: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind….The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Jesus made it very simple for us, not easy, but simple. But we can’t be satisfied with simple; we have to invent all kinds of theories and laws and rituals the come to be more important than the first two commandments in direct contradiction to what Jesus taught. Why do we consistently do this? We can’t resist wanting to be at Jesus’ right hand in the kingdom. We want to have a favored status; we want to be more worthy than others just like the Pharisees; we want to look condescendingly on sinners and non-Christians. We have a need to believe that we’re better than others.

That’s what Jesus was trying to get people to see and understand because it prevents us from loving one another. And we can’t love God if we don’t love one another. At least that’s what Jesus taught.

We’re all hypocrites. I know I am. I can talk a good game, but I don’t always put my words into practice. There are people I cast aside, people I look down on, people I try to avoid, people I don’t want to love. Jesus tells me that I don’t have any valid excuses; I can’t justify ignoring the second commandment. I can’t divide people into two parts — those like me and everyone else. Those who worship like me; those whose beliefs are like mine; those who vote like me; those whose world view is like mine. As Jesus said, what good is it to love those? The hard part is loving the rest just like the Pharisees who set themselves apart from and above everyone who didn’t practice their beliefs in the same way following the same rituals.

That’s why Barclay believes that this is one of the most important passages in the gospel. I think he’s right. Our outer selves have to be the same as our inner selves. We have to walk the talk. We have to love one another — all others. That’s how we build the kingdom of God and how we fulfill the greatest and first commandment.



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