Traditions and Commandments
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 7:1–7:13
The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 26, 2012
“Traditions and Commandments”
What a wonderful wedding celebration we had yesterday as our own Pastor Braun Campbell and his lovely bride, Leslie Bolz, were joined together as husband and wife in Christ Jesus our Lord. Thank you to everyone from the congregation who helped to plan and carry out the many details associated with this blessed event. The happy couple is leaving today for their honeymoon. It is interesting to note that one of the Scripture lessons that Pastor and Leslie chose for their wedding is today’s Epistle lesson from Ephesians 5:22-33. Here, Paul reminds husbands and wives that the mystery of their own relationship actually refers to the deeper mystery of Christ our bridegroom, and his bride, the Church. I cannot read through this passage from the bachelor apostle Paul about wives submitting to their husbands and husbands loving their wives without thinking of the movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” Before she meets the love of her life and gets married, Toula, the daughter of Greek immigrants, is the unmarried adult daughter still living at home. She desperately wants to expand her horizons and wants to attend classes at the community college, but her Greek father is opposed to this. Despairing and in tears, she sobs to her mother: “Dad always says, ‘The man is head of the family.’” To which her savvy mother replies, “Toula, let me tell you something. The man may be the head of the family, but the woman is the neck, and she can turn the head any way she wants.” There may be more theological truth here than we care to admit! Anyway, we pray the Lord’s richest blessings upon Pastor and Leslie, and many happy years of life together.
Today’s Gospel lesson is concerned with traditions and commandments, and in fact that is the theme for today’s message. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word, for Jesus’ sake. Jesus condemns the Pharisees for upholding their own traditions while abandoning God’s commandments. He quotes the Word of the Lord from the prophet Isaiah, which we heard in today’s Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 29:11-19): “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrine the commandments of men” (Isaiah 29:13). Yeah! Let ‘em have it, Jesus! Those self-righteous Pharisees had it coming anyway, right? We are more than willing to watch someone else get their comeuppance, but it’s different if it’s we ourselves who are on the receiving end of that comeuppance. So, in good Lutheran fashion, we ask: “What does this mean?”
The Pharisees were the conservative keepers of God’s Law. They were the pillars of the church, so to speak, of Jesus’ day. They did all the right things – observed the Sabbath day, as well as the feasts and festivals of Israel. They knew God’s Word backwards, forwards, and inside out. They were diligent in prayer and fasting. So, what’s the problem? Jesus’ stinging indictment of them is this: “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men” (Mark 7:8). They had substituted what God commanded for something of their own making. They were guilty of idolatry.
Now, the question for each one of us is this: are we guilty of doing the same thing? Do we leave the commandment of God and hold to our own traditions? Of course, we’ll say, “No,” but if we probe a little deeper and poke around at what’s in our own heart, it doesn’t take too long before we see there is more Pharisee within us than we’d like to admit. We become very accustomed to and comfortable with our customs, traditions, and rituals. And as Lutheran Christians, we have quite a few of them. If somebody starts messing around with these things, we tend to become rather defensive rather quickly. When all is said and done, it’s not about customs, traditions, and rituals. These are only outward forms that convey a deeper truth, and that deeper truth is faith – faith in Jesus who must be at the heart of it all. In truth, because of our fallen human nature and our own sinful inclinations, these customs, traditions, and rituals which are meant to point to Jesus can actually obscure him. We probably don’t like hearing this anymore than the Pharisees did, but hear it we must in order that the Holy Spirit may root out everything in us that is not of God, and that we may reshaped, reformed and realigned according to what is of God.
What is of God – the commandment of God – is simply this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). These are Jesus’ words about what is of God: love for God and love for neighbor. God’s commandment is that simple, and that demanding. Who can do this? We try every day to love God and our neighbor, but our own efforts just don’t cut it. What we do doesn’t measure up, no matter how hard we try, and we fall short. Enter Jesus: true God and true man, who came to do for us what we could not and cannot do for ourselves. He came to live fully and completely that sinless and perfect life which, because of our sin, we cannot. He came to die the death we rightly deserve, taking upon himself the punishment of our sin and disobedience. Through his death and resurrection, we have been reconciled to God our Father and by faith in him we have forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. This is not something we earn by good behavior or conduct; it is God’s gift, received through faith in Jesus.
We are a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), and as such as we see God’s commandment in a new light: no longer as a terrible, crushing burden but as a joyful response to all that God in in Christ has done for us. We know that on our own we’ll never be able to fulfill God’s commandment, but this only causes us to turn to Jesus all the more who has fulfilled for us what God commands. Thanks be to God! Amen.