Tradition or Jesus?
by Elaine Pierce
Does the word "tradition" bring to mind something positive or negative for you?
-the tradition in our family is to say grace before meals.
-the wedding traditions in America are really different from the wedding traditions in India.
-high school graduation ceremonies are filled with tradition, pomp and circumstance.
-their family vacations were traditionally taken at the lake the first week in July.
-You can't do that [insert something never done before]. It's against our tradition!
The Pharisees accuse Jesus of breaking "the tradition of the elders" in verse 1 of today's passage, and Jesus responds forcefully:
Jesus replied, "And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?" (v. 3)
Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you. (v. 5-6).
Traditions can be powerful milestones in our lives, but they can also be roadblocks to growth and change. "We've always done it this way" is the negative side of tradition, and we see clearly that the Pharisees weren't interested in sharing their religious power. Jesus threatened their elite status, and he didn't mince words when pointing out their hypocrisy.
But before we pat ourselves on the back and say, well, thank goodness I'm not like them, let's look at the rest of this passage. Yes, the Pharisees are absorbed in holding onto power, and they are desperate to neutralize Jesus' message. But what about the disciples? They have been following Jesus for 3 years, and they have heard his teaching day in and day out. And yet, they don't understand him. When Peter asks him to explain the simple parable in verses 13-14, Jesus had it with their lack of understanding:
"Are you still so dull?" (v. 16)
Oh, how that must have hurt. And yet, he continues to love these men, even when they don't deserve it. When they completely miss the point.
We can be hypocritical like the Pharisees, caught up in our traditions, failing to see that God's Son is here - the Kingdom of God has arrived. We can be like the crowd, who listens but doesn't understand. Or we can be like the disciples, dull and failing to grasp our teacher's wisdom. Or - we can fall to our knees and thank God for the gift of eternal life. We can ask forgiveness for all those times we have counted on tradition rather than his word. We can ask him to give us ears to hear. And we can come to him daily, hourly, and sit at his feet, knowing that he will never send us away, and that he delights to spend time with us.
Lord, so often I fail to see how far I fall short. I want to do good, but I get caught up in wanting to get credit and impressing others instead. I want to earn my way into heaven, instead of accepting the gift of grace you freely offer. Forgive me, and help me, day by day, to live in the knowledge and glory that all I have is from you. Thank you for sending the Holy Spirit to guide me, and thank you for the gift of eternal life. Amen.