Jerusalem has become the place which directly opposes Jesus’ ministry and teaching. The Temple, the centre of faith is in Jerusalem at the time and there is a sense of importance attached to people coming from Jerusalem to “talk to Jesus” about his behaviour and conduct.
Jesus could do nothing right.
The people who had travelled with him, his disciples, had learnt about the heart and spirit of Jesus’ teachings and were beginning to understand basic truths about the Law and the way it was designed to help and keep the people safe rather than bind them to ritual and taboo for the sake of simply being “the Law”.
In verse 8, Jesus says
“You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions”
Jesus knows the Law and how it should be applied – as well as how it is being applied well enough to see how it is stifling the life and faith of the people. He is not slow in challenging firmly, immediately and directly the traditions by which the Pharisees are judging and measuring the quality of the faith of Jesus’ own disciples…
Jesus turns the Law to reflect the hypocrisy of the Pharisees in having both invented and then cemented importance on their own traditions to which they have become inextricably bound. He then goes on to challenge the whole “crowd’ who have gathered to watch the showdown.
He calls them to
“Listen and understand….”
It isn’t about the food … whether or not it is eaten by ceremonially washed hands. As Peter will learn later on in Acts 10:9-15, it isn’t about the ritual cleanliness of the food either;
verse 15 is especially notable: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean”
The laws have a spiritual purpose, which is to bring us closer to God and to live in communion with him.
Traditions which are added to the Law, a grim holding on to rituals for their own sake is NOT honouring of God. Jesus is keen to remind the crowd about what really defiles: The things of the heart which are pernicious and vicious towards other people. There is a linking of this passage with the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 & 6, which will be worth reading this afternoon, so that the sermon can be given a wider context.
We are blessed.
We are under the notice of God in a positive way when we uphold the Spirit and heart of the Law, and that Law is completed in the life, death and resurrection of the person of Jesus.
WE may do all the right things. We may fulfil all the expectations passed to us by our ancestors. We may sing the most up to date or the most traditional spiritual songs as our worship. But.
If we use all this as a measure of the judgement of our Rightness before God, we have missed the point as much as ever the disciples did. The “tradition” – whichever traditions we uphold – supplanting the Love and Forgiveness of God in Jesus in our lives becomes that which defiles us.
We can turn to St Paul for a further understanding of this in Romans 12:2
This is one of the readings we traditionally use during our Covenant service during which we commit “no longer to live for self but for Christ”
Let’s remind ourselves of it
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
The pattern of this world is anything that is not of God. Traditions and rules that are not Godly and which do not honour him.
I think at a most basic level, this passage firmly indicates that Christians should not be despising and judging each other for style and praxis in worship. Faith, hope and love must govern our responses to one another and our opinion of one another’s working our and expression of belief.
I look back to how, as a 17 year old trainee preacher, I would preach in a huge church with wrap around gallery or in a tiny village chapel and my exuberant and uncritical sermons based out of my own interpretations of the Bible, my Matthew Henry Commentary and my “vast life experience and lived out faith”.
Yet grace flowed freely.
They looked past the inadequacies of my efforts and showed me the love I needed to encourage me onwards. They were excited that I was excited about faith and enthusiastic the there was someone younger ‘having a go’ at preaching. The same people supported us with ‘love gifts’ so that we could take part in mission trips and go to larger gatherings where more people gathered.
None of this fitted their personal tradition, but it released me and others to be able to become the people whom God had called us to be rather than stifling the spirit’s move with judgement.
Of course it didn’t stop people from making snide remarks about “Happy Clappy” (Which, in fairness, I have never owned – too much pressure to clap properly) It didn’t stop people from passing judgement about the quality of many of the psalm-based verses which we sang in praise of God (Musically, they weren’t good enough)
it did not stop me from expressing my judgement about some of the habits and practises of the great and good who expressed theirs. I wish I hadn’t. If I could take it back, I would. I was wrong.
Traditions help us to love God better. They provide a framework of helpfulness in which faith can be achieved, developed, expressed and lived out in active service.
Traditions become useful, such as tat we will always have a prayer or two to pray in dire circumstances, because the ritual of saying the Lord’s Prayer every week and the Grace at the end of the service have traced indelible lines of prayer into our souls….
If we didn’t say them every Sunday – would God judge the worship as inadequate or his people as shabby?
This passage suggests not. And Jesus himself quotes from Isaiah, reminding us that he understands the correct application of the heart and intention of the Scriptures.
Isaiah 29:13 “The Lord says
‘These people come near to me with their mouth
and honour me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship is based on merely human rules they have been taught’
We are people who are created for and by God. We are made in his image and likeness and ‘crowned with glory and honour’ as it says in Psalm 8.
We are gifted with godly attitudes such as grace and generosity. Love and hospitality. Wisdom and gentleness of spirit. Hope and passion.
Our business is then to share the goodness of God’s love with those who do not yet know him, and to celebrate that love with an openness of heart that opens us up in worship and faith to become more like him by being transformed in the activity of worship.
We sing, we pray, we listen, we read, we learn, we offer
all of which are good things
But unless we deal with the things of verse 21, unless we deal with the choices we have made in our hearts “where evil thoughts come from – sex immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly”
These things will pollute our attitude to so much else.
And it is when we get a grip on ourselves with regard to the things that are properly spoiling our relationship with God, that we can achieve a lightness of spirit and of hope.
Jesus dealt with all things that were not Godly by inviting the presence of God to fill the brokenness or sickness or Godlessness. And fill it God does. It is a matter of prayer and intention and by the power of God alive and at work within us – all kinds of difference can be made.