Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ But you say that whoever tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is given to God,’ then that person need not honor the father. So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God. You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said:
‘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.’
(Matthew 15:1-9 NRSV)
Years ago, our pastor was going to be away for the weekend and I was asked to lead the Sunday worship service for him. I could recite the liturgy, write and share the sermon message, and lead the prayers- but I could not serve Communion. I was disappointed, and I could tell that the people were, too. My sermon message was about the ten lepers, so I included a comment, “In a way, this morning we can feel like the ten lepers, as we will be excluded from the Meal.”
I have yet to find where Jesus says, “Remember me when you eat this bread and drink this cup- but only if it is served by an ordained minister.” (Or in some churches, you need to have gone to confession, or have been baptized, or have become a full member of the church, or understand transubstantiation… ) Have our faith traditions become an obstacle for the love of Jesus, shown in the sharing and eating, the gathering together at the table, the remembering of his life and love? We like to say, “All are welcome.” But then the rules get in the way…
In our passage for today, Jesus scolds the Pharisees and scribes for their strict adherence to their religious rules and practices. He points out how some of these actually break the commandment of God, such as when we give offering money while our parents need help, or keep Sabbath rest when someone needs to be fed. Jesus always taught, practiced, and lived the two most important commandments of God; to love God and to love one another (Matthew 22:36-40).
We may unquestioningly cling to certain Bible passages, faith traditions, practices and rules that actually detract from the meaning of the Word; the Word found in the Bible, in creation, in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and in the Spirit. That meaning is LOVE. Love alone. When we lose sight of love, we “honor with our lips while our hearts are far away.”
Are you talking to ME?
Today Jesus is asking, “Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?”
Are there any faith traditions or practices in your church that may have become obstacles for others? Are you clinging to things (certain Bible verses, long-held traditions, preferred liturgies, rules for membership, etc.) that keep you from fully including and loving others? Would breaking a certain tradition or Bible verse make you feel uncomfortable, even if done for the sake of love? What would you be willing to surrender in order to help someone know the love of God?
Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?