Skip to comments."Tradition! Tradition!" (Sermon on Mark 7:1-13)
Posted on 08/25/2012 6:45:49 PM PDT by Charles Henrickson
Tradition! Tradition! (Mark 7:1-13)
In the musical Fiddler on the Roof, the lead character, Tevye, sings out, Tradition! Tradition! And then he explains: Because of our traditions, weve kept our balance for many, many years. Here in Anatevka we have traditions for everything: how to sleep, how to eat, how to work, how to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered and always wear a little prayer shawl. This shows our constant devotion to God. You may ask: How did this tradition get started? Ill tell you: I dont know. But its a tradition. And because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.
Because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do. Oh really, Tevye? Is tradition really such a clear indicator of Gods will? Is tradition, in fact, even a good thing? You might not think so, Tevye, if you listen to Rabbi Jesus in our Gospel reading today. Jesus seems to be pretty well set against tradition.
Listen to what he says. Jesus calls the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites and says to them, You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men. And again, You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! And again, he says, You are making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. Tradition? Jesus seems to be saying, Phooey on tradition!
So, if thats the case, if tradition is bad, what should we do about this in the church, today? Perhaps we need to get rid of our traditions. Thats what many would advocate, and thats what many churches are doing. Get rid of the crucifix! That will just turn people off. Dont make the sign of the cross! Thats too Catholic. Get rid of the liturgy! Who needs that boring old stuff? Oh, I suppose we could shove it off to a Saturday afternoon service or an early-Sunday-morning traditional service, for the old folks who are still stuck in the past. Traditional? Bad. Contemporary? Good. Thats whats been going on in the church for the last thirty years or so. We need to set ourselves free from the traditions of the elders! Out with the old, in with the new! And I suppose the anti-tradition people would cite our text today and Jesus own words to bolster their case.
But is that what Jesus is really railing against in our text? Tradition, per se? Or is there something more to it than that? I mean, after all, Jesus himself did keep some of the traditions. He went regularly to the synagogue--as was his custom, the gospels add. He went up to Jerusalem for the annual pilgrimage festivals. It appears that Jesus was not against all tradition.
The word tradition means something handed down, handed down from one generation to the next. It could be a traditional teaching or a traditional practice. But the teaching or practice is neither good nor bad simply because it has been handed down. There are other factors that come into play.
You can see the Apostle Paul, for example, using the language of tradition in a positive sense, as a good thing. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul tells the Corinthians, Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. Here hes speaking about good worship practices. And a little later in that same chapter, Paul tells them: For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed, etc. Paul here is applying the doctrine of the Lords Supper, which he received and then passed on to the Corinthians, to their practice of it. What I received from the Lord I delivered to you. I passed it on. Thats tradition.
Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul writes: Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved. . . . For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. . . . Do those words sound familiar? They should. Pauls words--the tradition he passed on--have found their way into the churchs creeds. Paul is speaking of passing on, delivering, that which has been received--and that this can even save people! It does so when its the traditional teaching of the person and work of Christ, the Savior of sinners. This is tradition in the good sense.
Another example, Paul to the Thessalonians: So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us. Or Paul writing to Timothy: What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Thats multi-generational tradition! And the apostle wants it to happen.
So whats the deal? There are all these examples in the New Testament commending tradition, and yet Jesus speaks against it in our text. How come? Because its not tradition in itself that is bad. Its whats being tradished, so to speak, that is, what is being handed on, and why its being done. Thats what was wrong with the traditions being spoken of in todays Gospel reading.
For one thing, these man-made traditions were seen as necessary. You had to do them--even though God had not commanded them to be done. For example, you had to wash your hands at certain times and in a certain way before you could eat. But God had not said that you had to do that. That was a tradition added on by the elders. And so those rules should not have been made absolutely necessary, as though they were coming from God.
Secondly, these traditions were seen as meritorious, that is, you were earning your salvation, or contributing toward it, by doing these things. That too was what was wrong about these traditions. The thought was that if you did these things, and followed the traditions, that somehow you were piling up points with God. But the truth is, we sinners cannot keep Gods own law, which he has commanded, well enough to earn our salvation, even apart from keeping all the extra traditions that men have added on.
And that brings us to the third thing that was wrong with the traditions spoken of, and spoken against, in our text. The scribes and Pharisees were using the traditions of the elders to avoid doing the things that God does command. That is specifically what Jesus condemns. You see, there was a tradition that if you declared some of your money Corban, that is, a gift dedicated to God, then it was off-limits--you could not use that money for any other purpose. OK, fair enough. It is good to set some of our money aside for offerings to God. However, the scribes and Pharisees abused that tradition. If their parents became old and needed their help, they would say they had set their extra money aside as Corban and therefore they could not spend it to help their parents. That was outrageous, Jesus says. The Pharisees and scribes were circumventing a direct command from God, the Fourth Commandment, Honor your father and your mother, and they were using a man-made tradition about Corban as their excuse. That is the kind of tradition that Jesus condemns, namely, a man-made tradition used to get around a God-given command.
So when a man-made tradition is taught as being absolutely necessary, when it is done in order to earn merit before God, or when it is used to take precedence over Gods clear commandments, then that kind of tradition is definitely wrong. Thats what Jesus condemns, and thats what we should condemn, too.
But that is not the case with many of the good traditions that we have in the church. Those traditions we would be wise to keep and to pass on to the next generation. Included among these good traditions would be the Creeds, for example. Here we have the teaching of the apostles, passed on for centuries in the church, and preserved for us in succinct, memorable form. The Creeds pass on the saving gospel of Christ, which we have received, and in which we stand, and by which we are saved. What tradition could be better than the Nicene Creed, for instance, which teaches us of our Lord Jesus Christ, the one who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven . . . and was crucified also for us, and who rose again according to the Scriptures, and so on?
You see, that is the gospel itself, which the apostles preached, and which we believe, and which delivers to us all the saving benefits of Christ. Our works wont gain us entry into heaven. Our hands are defiled with sin, and all our self-chosen works will not get that stain out. Only the blood of Jesus Christ, Gods own Son, will do that. And it does! Jesus blood cleanses us from all our sins. The washing God does in Holy Baptism applies the forgiveness Christ won for us on the cross. This is the gospel, and it is for you! And this gospel, passed on to us in Word and Sacrament--this gospel delivers the goods. That is the value of tradition in the good sense. And that is what we should preserve, therefore, in the teachings and practices of the church.
And so our liturgy, the churchs historic liturgical form, handed down and shaped over many centuries--yes, the structure and texts of the Divine Service, which we have and use in our hymnal--this is something worth preserving and passing on. The churchs liturgy has stood the test of time. The liturgy both expresses and teaches the beautiful gospel of Christ better than anything else that some individual could come up with on his own from week to week. So theres no need to throw out the liturgy. Better to learn and use it and to do it well. Its a good tradition that we have received, and it delivers the goods.
Our friend Tevye would tell us, Because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do. Well, not exactly. If our traditions get in the way of the word of God, no. Then the traditions of the elders are bad. But when tradition serves the word of God, to help pass along the one and only saving gospel of Christ, then we can say--and sing out with no shame: Tradition! Tradition!
Now when the Pharisees gathered to [Jesus], with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands? And he said to them, Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.
You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.
And he said to them, You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, Honor your father and your mother; and, Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die. But you say, If a man tells his father or his mother, Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban (that is, given to God)--then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.
Can ya add me to that ping list also?
Is this thread part of the Religion forum? Would any Christian care for a counter-point? I mean, I have the “traditional” post-Shabbos (Sabbath) dishes to wash, prayer shawl to fold up, and web sites to browse (as did the Pharisees,) but I could shed some light... Or I could butt out... whatever...
But I cannot resist my favorite Temple-period joke. Why were the Saducee unhappy sitting in the dark on the Sabbath, careful to kindle no fire in his tent... because he was very sad, you see.....
“Is this thread part of the Religion forum? Would any Christian care for a counter-point? I mean, I have the traditional post-Shabbos (Sabbath) dishes to wash, prayer shawl to fold up, and web sites to browse (as did the Pharisees,) but I could shed some light... Or I could butt out... whatever...
But I cannot resist my favorite Temple-period joke. Why were the Saducee unhappy sitting in the dark on the Sabbath, careful to kindle no fire in his tent... because he was very sad, you see.....”
The Kabbalah stuff would be the perfect example to prove the point of the thread against the traditions of men.
Wait....was that official permission or consensus-tested interest in a rebuttal?
Again I can’t resist... Fiddler on the Roof is a horribly misleading movie. Secularists call the commandments “tradition” and relish when it breaks down and the guy’s daughters all marry out of the faith (except one as I recall...but it was a long time ago.)
Even without Kabbalah, a commandment, “MITZVAH” in Hebrew, is given by the Commander in Chief. The very word MITZVAH means “connection.” The mitzvas are a connection to G-d Almighty. Immagine if a king (back in the day) pointed to a simple subject and said, “Hey, do this or that for me...” He would be delighted to be noticed. The Tevye quote almost had it right, we Jews do have discrete, objective commandments given by G-d at Mount Sinai for everything: how to sleep, how to eat, how to work, how to wear clothes... but there is incredible meaning and depth in the simplest act or utterance in our thrice-daily, scripted, never-to-be-changed liturgy.
We wouldn’t change it for the world.
I felt highlighting the real meaning of our “traditions.” I can’t address anything past Daniel though, my gentile friends. So take it for what it’s worth.
In the Jewish month of Elul...the month before Rosh Hashana (the Jewish ‘new year’ but more precisely the day Adam the first man was created, and ‘crowned’ G-d King) we wish each other to be inscribed and sealed for a good, sweet year. So may you all be.
(the gentile mitzvas: http://www.noahide.org/ :)
And you friend!
The one I've often used is this: The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, so they were sad, you see.
Are we Jews supposed to be ‘discrete’ or ‘discreet’?
“Even without Kabbalah,”
As it should be, as it was invented in the 12th century and gives “mystical” interpretations of Hebrew that read like mumbo jumbo, for example:
As long as a person is unsuccessful in his purpose in this world, the Holy One, blessed be He, uproots him and replants him over and over again. (Zohar I 186b)
All souls are subject to reincarnation; and people do not know the ways of the Holy One, blessed be He! They do not know that they are brought before the tribunal both before they enter into this world and after they leave it; they are ignorant of the many reincarnations and secret works which they have to undergo, and of the number of naked souls, and how many naked spirits roam about in the other world without being able to enter within the veil of the King’s Palace. Men do not know how the souls revolve like a stone that is thrown from a sling. But the time is at hand when these mysteries will be disclosed. (Zohar II 99b)
44. Inside the gates is a lock with a tiny and narrow keyhole. This lock is marked AND KNOWN only by the impression of the key. And no one is to know about THIS NARROW KEYHOLE without having the key. And upon this secret IS BASED THE VERSE, “In the beginning (Beresheet) Elohim created (Bara)” (Beresheet 1:1). Beresheet is the key by which everything is hidden, as it locks and unlocks. With this key six gates are locked and unlocked. So when it locks those gates and includes them within itself, then it is for sure Beresheet: a revealed word that includes within it a concealed word. Bara, wherever it appears, is a word that hides and guards a secret, IMPLYING THAT THE KEY locks it up and does not unlock it.
It is the perfect example of tradition gone mad, and not even good tradition, as it is not even historical, and yet is considered Jewish.
Torah Judaism disagrees with your statements about the origins of Kabbalah works/writings. Sorry.
All six hundred & thirteen Commandments were given at Mount Sinai?
They’re quite a plateful, even unto this day.
It was Rebbe Maimonides IIRC who said that all the minutiae details must sometimes be taken with a grain of salt. When survival is at stake, for example.
G-d protected His people with kashrut, that’s a given. But are the rules so necessary in this technological age? Yes, my friends keep kosher as a personal connection to the L-rd but my views are like those of most Israelis if you get my drift. And they’re the front line of what it really means to be Jewish, are they not?
“Torah Judaism disagrees with your statements about the origins of Kabbalah works/writings. Sorry.”
There’s no evidence of the historicity of the Zohar or Kabbalah as it currently exists. Though its followers (of Kabbalah) would have you believe it was around since the Garden of Eden.
Wonderful sermon and one that should be “read, marked, learned and inwardly digested” by more than a few. Thanks.
Traditions of Men = Other folks traditions, not mine.
How many Pharisees does it take to screw in a light bulb?
20. One to screw it in and 19 to argue over the best way to screw it in.
Touche again....very Jewish. (arguing nuance of the law, etc...)
Unrelated, but for former A-6 flight crew out there.... How many former A-6 pilots does it take to change a light bulb? Three...one to change the light bulb, and two to talk about how great the ol’ light bulb was....
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