7 November 2011

Matthew 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 their tradition.

'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.

To Ponder

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?

Bible notes author

The Revd Simon Sutcliffe

Simon Sutcliffe is an ordained minister in the Methodist Church currently working part time as the tutor for evangelism and church growth at Queen's Foundation, Birmingham and part time as a pioneer minister with Venture FX establishing new forms of Christian community in the Chester and Stoke-on-Trent District. Simon has four children who help to keep him grounded and in a constant cycle of tidying up(!), and is deeply disappointed that none of them support Bradford City..