Whether or not we realize it, all aspects of our lives include traditions: unexamined habits and mindless rituals. But perhaps traditions most often exist in our approach to God and our worship of him. While some traditions had a positive origin, others were misguided from the start. With little thought we pass our traditions from one person to the next, one generation to another.
Churches often protect their traditions with adamant, unyielding passion – sometimes at the expense of obeying God and doing what the Bible says. This is not a new problem. Jesus addressed this two thousand years ago.
The religious leaders of the day (the Pharisees) were quick to point out that Jesus’ followers (disciples) broke from tradition. They didn’t bring this up to provide correction but to pronounce condemnation. They thought they could discredit Jesus and embarrass him in front of the people.
Their plan didn’t work. Jesus foiled them. He declared that what the Bible said took precedence over their traditions. Jesus put his detractors and their ideas of what was important in their place.
What are some traditions or rituals that you have jettisoned? What are some traditions that might warrant reconsideration?
In The Error of the Sadducees and Pharisees, it was noted that the Pharisees’ mistake was adding to the Bible and then esteeming their additions as more important.
Jesus notes that they break God’s commands in order to keep their own, man-made traditions (that is, the religious rules they added to the Bible). He then gives an example and quotes Isaiah, deeming it as worthless worship.
While most God-loving people would shutter at the thought of doing this, their actions often belie their intentions. Consider being fixated on what a certain scholar says about the Bible and knowing his or her work better than the Bible or jumping on the bandwagon of the latest “hot” author, pouring over his or her writings with great fervor, while relegating the Bible to second-class status.
Studying scholars and writers who point us to God can be a positive and helpful thing, which should not be dismissed. However, giving them undo importance, or diminishing God and what the Bible says about him in the process, is never good.
It is the error of the Pharisees.
[Matthew 15:3-9 and Mark 7:5-13, Isaiah 29:13]
I’ve always liked the story of Esther. She was a peasant girl who won a national beauty pageant and became queen. In my imagination, I’ve given this tale a Cinderella-like grandness, with Esther and the king, falling in love and living happily ever after.
Alas, the story does not mention love and fails to include any thoughts of happiness. Let’s review the facts:
- Esther and her people had been taken captive and forcibly relocated to a foreign land; she was a spoil of war.
- Esther did not opt to take part in the beauty contest; all attractive virgins were compelled to participate.
- Esther’s heritage prohibited her from marrying outside her faith; to do so would be a shameful and disobedient act.
Add to this these reasonable conclusions about Esther’s “relationship” with the king:
- Even after she was made queen, he seemingly continued to enjoy the company of other women in his harem.
- She was estranged from him; she had not been “summoned” by him for thirty days.
- She feared him; she could be summarily executed by merely approaching him without permission.
In the New Jerusalem Bible, we are treated to the prayer that she offered in the midst of this. She says, in part:
- “I loathe the bed of the uncircumcised” (that would be the king)
- “I am under constraint” to wear the crown, that is, to be queen
- “Nor has your servant found pleasure from the day of her promotion until now”
- “Free me from my fear”
Sadly, there is no love, happiness, joy, or satisfaction in her role as queen. Even so she did use her unwanted position to save her people, the Jews, from a certain annihilation. So this account of Esther isn’t a love story, at least not in the traditional sense. It is, however, a tale of valor and bravery — and a reminder that one person can make a difference.
In Matthew 15:3-7, Jesus criticizes the Pharisees for placing their traditions ahead of God’s commands. From our perspective, in a different time and culture, it is easy for us to see their error. However, we likely do the same type of thing and are blind to it.
What might some of those traditions be?
Certainly a lot of what happens at many church services today are based more on tradition than command. While many of those traditions have a solid basis or are good for us to follow, it is all too easy for our man-made traditions to take on more importance or priority than is wise or warranted. If our traditions distract us from following and serving Jesus, then it is time to set them aside.
What traditions have you placed too high of emphasis?
Jesus was a Jew.
That statement catches many Christians (that is, followers of Jesus) off guard. It is easy to label Jesus, since he is the impetus for Christianity, as a Christian, even though his time spent on earth was as a Jew.
Indeed, he was born a Jew, into a Jewish culture, and had a clear Jewish lineage. He was raised and educated in Jewish beliefs and traditions. His ministry was primarily to Jewish people (though he certainly ministered to non-Jews and made it clear that his message was for all people, his focus was the Jews). Plus, most of his disciples were Jews, as presumably were most of his followers. In fact, initially Christianity was viewed as a sect of Judaism. [Acts 28:22]
Yes, Jesus was Jewish.
As such, there is much that his followers owe to and can learn from Jewish traditions and beliefs. This is one important reason to study the Old Testament and to embrace our common ground with our Jewish bothers and sisters.