7 November 2011Matthew 15:1-20
"And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?" (v. 3)
The Pharisees and scribes are back! (In the Gospels they have
been continually asking questions, testing Jesus and trying to
trick him.) This time they are sent from Jerusalem which means word
has got out and rumour of Jesus has spread. It seems the rumours
are not wholly positive and they want to know why Jesus disregards
'Tradition' is a loaded word: how many conversations have we heard about hymns vs worship songs; chairs vs pews; sermons vs cafe church? Those who resist change are often viewed as traditionalists - so tradition becomes the byword for old, opposing, irrelevant forms of church.
So were the Pharisees the laggards because they insisted on ritual cleaning before meals? And was Jesus the pioneering future of Judaism that ran contrary to Jewish law and expectation?
We can't be sure about the Pharisees, but it seems that Jesus isn't diminishing the tradition, He is reclaiming it! As he said in another place: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil" (Matthew 5:17).
Jesus points out that it is the Pharisees that have misused the tradition to suit their own needs by making promises (or vows) that would leave them with few responsibilities for their parents (particularly if they are ageing and infirm). For Jesus this was clearly an insult to the tradition, just as the question about ritual washings were, because the Pharisees were using tradition for their own ends rather than allowing it to do as it was meant to do and be a blessing to the people of God.
Unclean hands do not make an unclean person, but a messed up heart may well lead to an unblessed life.
Have you ever hidden behind tradition because you don't want to see change? Why did you do this?
What things in your life or in the life of your church need to be revisited?
How might you treasure tradition, without being wedded to it?