Traditions are a fundamental part of our human experience. They ground us, they connect us to one another and they often bring meaning, peace and joy to our lives. We are entering into the fall season that will usher in all kinds of beloved traditions…traditions at church, traditions at home, traditions in our neighborhoods and community. But tradition, according to our scripture reading for this week, can also lead us down a slippery slope…especially in our lives of faith. Because traditions can become worn out. They can lose that which makes them lively and life giving. They can become small and legalistic. They can become more important, in and of themselves, than that which inspired them in the first place.
Our reading from Mark’s gospel takes us into the heart of a heated exchange between Jesus and some of the religious leaders. The religious leaders ask a question about Jesus’ disciples that is clearly more of an accusation than a genuine question. They want to know why Jesus’ disciples don’t all wash their hands according to the purity laws before eating. Jesus, drawing on the words of the prophet Isaiah, calls them out for honoring God “with their lips” while their hearts are far away.
This text is a challenging one as it might tempt us to point out the hypocrisy that’s easy to see in others…especially others with whom we don’t agree! But really this passage invites us to reflect on our own lives, to get clear about the ways that we might miss the mark of honoring the bigger things related to loving God and neighbor, focusing instead on the smaller things that are of little or no consequence. I hope you’ll join us Sunday as we think about these issues around tradition and honoring God not only with our lips but also with our hearts and our whole lives.
We will be worshipping in the sanctuary this Sunday and then moving outside to the courtyard for the next six to eight weeks while work is being completed on our Labor of Love project. Childcare will be available for pre-school and elementary age children this Sunday. More info will be coming soon regarding Sunday School in September. We continue to wear masks, physically distance and HUM along to the singing of our song leaders in order to create a safe and comfortable space for all. COVID guidelines are printed in the bulletin and updated as needed.
May the Holy Spirit continue to guide us and may we be instruments of God’s peace, justice and mercy in our own unique and beautiful ways. Be well, care for one another and see you in church on Sunday!
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15 (NRSV)
Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”
For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
Questions for Reflection:
- How would you define tradition? What is valuable about tradition? When and how can a tradition become lifeless or even dangerous?
- Have you had an experience, as an individual or in a community, of holding onto a tradition at the expense of something greater?
- What is challenging about this passage? Where in it do you find an invitation?
- Who is someone you know who both honors God with their lips (their talk) as well as their lives (their walk)?
This slam against Jewish customs is in order. My many Jewish friends continue to follow the washing of hands prayerfully before eating, and also raising both beverage and food in prayer. I identify with Jesus and imagine his disciples from a desert region near Capernaum as needing to drink water or die.
I would like to defend the Jewish law and accept the leniency I have known in it–for instance–when a person is crippled, that person does not have to perform all of the Mitzvahs.