Monday, February 06, 2017

Cling to Human Tradition

By Melanie Rigney

Thus the heavens and the earth and all their array were completed. Since on the seventh day God was finished with the work he had been doing, he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken. (Genesis 2:1-2)

O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:2ab)

(Jesus told the Pharisees and scribes:) “You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition. … How well you have set aside the commandment of God in order to uphold your tradition!" (Mark 7:8,9)

Lord, cleanse me of my inner Pharisee.

Pity the Pharisees and the scribes.

Yes, pity them. They were doing what they had been taught, what their mentors had done before them. They focused on what people could see, on the external trappings of worship and tradition, in the case of today’s Gospel reading from Mark, on purifying themselves and their possessions. These public practices set them apart from, literally and figuratively, the great unwashed.

When the Pharisees and the scribes challenge Jesus on why his disciples do not do the same thing, he offers no defense or rationale, but calls them hypocrites and strikes at their oh-so-proper worship, throwing the worships of the great prophet Isaiah back at them: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

They must have been dumbstruck, astounded that this man, in essence, challenged them on their faith life’s focus on ritual. Who did he think he was?

Now, there’s nothing wrong with ritual per se. It can be a glorious form of worship, reminding us we are part of a larger and longer Sacred Tradition. But when we devote ourselves to what people can see, there’s a danger of ignoring the Lord’s true desires for us: to worship Him, not ritual, and to love others as we love ourselves. It’s about the love and service behind the tradition, not the love of the tradition. May we be granted the wisdom to discern the difference.

Where are you clinging to human tradition rather than obeying God’s commandments? Consider ways you can refocus.

(Image credit: James Tissot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

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